Thursday, March 09, 2000

UK in its element at SEC tourney

'Cats have cured their ills in Atlanta

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEXINGTON, Ky. — In basketball, March doesn't come in like a lion. It comes in like a Wildcat.

        Kentucky served notice last Saturday it intends to reprise its annual March march, bombing Florida in the regular-season finale. The next order of business: the Southeastern Conference Tournament, which begins today at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

        This event largely has been a Kentucky coronation, coach Tubby Smith picking up where his predecessors left off.

        “It seems like this month is his month,” UK freshman guard Keith Bogans said of Smith. “He knows how to turn it up.”

        Smith's March record at UK is 16-1. He'll have more history for help:

        • UK has won 22 SEC tourney titles in 38 years with a 96-15 (.865) overall mark. The next-best team, Alabama, has won just six titles.

        • UK has won seven of the last eight years, going 23-1 in the event in the 1990s.

        • UK is 13-0 in the Georgia Dome, including 9-0 in SEC tourney play.

        “The way we've been playing there, I consider it a home court,” UK sophomore swingman Tayshaun Prince said.

        The 16th-ranked Wildcats begin play with a 9:45p.m. Friday quarterfinal (Ch.9) against the winner of tonight's Arkansas-Georgia game. Like last year, UK enters 22-8 and seeded second, breathing a sigh of relief after nearly failing to secure a first-round bye for the first time in 21 years.

        But the postseason is a fresh start, one UK historically greets with the heartiest of hugs. Then-senior Scott Padgett referred last year to the Wildcats' “biological calendars” being responsible for the extra energy. “We're training April, May, June, July each year for the next March,” UK junior guard Saul Smith said. “It's all geared toward, "We want to be the best team at the right time.' Who wants to be the best team in December?”

        This season, UK surely wasn't. It was 4-4 in mid-December.

        “I've started 4-8 and (2-6) at Tulsa and had those teams played in the Missouri Valley Championship game,” Tubby Smith said. “What's helped is we played a tough schedule, getting us ready for games like Florida the other day. We're about where we expected to be.”

        This shapes up as perhaps the most balanced SEC Tournament in years. With UK, Florida, Tennessee and Louisiana State all going 12-4 in league play, it's the first time more than two teams shared the regular-season crown.

        There are few teams who haven't pulled some upsets.

        “Teams like Arkansas and Alabama have come on,” Tubby Smith said. “Vanderbilt has beaten Tennessee twice. There will be some upsets.”

        UK's concern remains the same: shooting. It ranks 11th in the SEC in field-goal percentage (.422) and last in 3-point shooting (.289).

        But the Wildcats insist they fare better in domes.

        “We usually get down there (to Atlanta) and find our stroke,” Saul Smith said. “We don't think this year will be any different.”

SEC Tournament Pairings

Sports Stories
Miami misses NCAA bid
Miami seniors struggle in loss
Miami Notebook
NKU women have high hopes
- UK in its element at SEC tourney
Big 10 teams on guard for tourney title
Big Ten Tournament Pairings
Columbus NHL team will play exhibition here
Mighty Ducks 3, Syracuse 3
Milwaukee 5, Cyclones 4
Munoz, Daniels players of year
Boys Southwest All-District teams
Girls Southwest All-District teams
Ohio boys basketball scores
Ohio girls basketball scores
Waynesville girls lose touch
Wyoming boys ousted by Versailles
Madeira boys close to repeat
Madeira girls play tall
Cincinnati boys basketball schedule
Cincinnati girls tournament schedule
Holmes girls deny Scott
Newport girls beat Boone
Shelby Co. knocks out Walton
Kentucky boys basketball scores
Kentucky girls basketball scores
N.Ky. boys basketball schedule
N.Ky. girls basketball schedule

Boomer fired from Monday Night Football
Bengals wait on Mitchell
Santiago pushing LaRue for No. 2
Reese still out, but don't panic
Big Red Machine members returning
Reds Game Report
UC wants to run the table
Martin, Huggins win top league honors
C-USA Tournament Roundup
C-USA Tournament Pairings
Xavier wins A-10 opener
XU's West playing beyond his years
Other A-10 Tournament Games
A-10 Tournament Pairings
A-10 dropping divisions
A-10 lobbies for NCAA bids
Gillen has Cavs on move