The League: Wildcats pursuing purr-fection

'Cats in position to go unbeaten in SEC play with five left

With only five league games left, John Calipari's No. 1 Wildcats are 11-0 in the SEC and in position to go a perfect 16-0. (Associated Press)

Published: Friday, February 17, 2012 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 16, 2012 at 9:10 p.m.

Earlier this week, John Calipari said he felt Kentucky was the best team in the nation at the end of last season. And the Wildcats lost six SEC games.



Tennessee at Alabama (WJXT, WOGX), 1:30 p.m.
LSU at South Carolina, 1:30 p.m.
Ole Miss at Kentucky, (WJXT, WOGX), 4 p.m.
Florida at Arkansas (ESPN2), 6 p.m.
Mississippi State at Auburn (FSN), 8 p.m.

Vanderbilt at Georgia (FSN), 1 p.m.

Auburn at Florida (ESPNU), 7 p.m.
Kentucky at Mississippi State (ESPN), 9 p.m.

Ole Miss at Tennessee (CSS), 7 p.m.
Georgia at LSU, 8 p.m.
South Carolina at Vanderbilt (WJXT), 8 p.m.

Alabama at Arkansas (ESPN2), 7 p.m.

That tells us two things:

1. Navigating through the SEC schedule can be perilous.

2. What the Wildcats are doing this season is quite remarkable.

With only five league games left, the No. 1 Wildcats are 11-0 in the SEC and in position to go a perfect 16-0.

That hasn't happened in the SEC since Kentucky did it in 2002-03.

“Any time, in any league, it's very, very difficult (to run the table),” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “It's very hard. You have to go on the road, and you're going to have games where you're not at your best and you're going to have some setbacks.

“I don't know how many games they've had like that, but those games do come.”

One came just last Saturday. Struggling on offense, UK was on the ropes in Nashville. With 4:01 to play, the Wildcats found themselves down 63-61 to the emotional Commodores.

No problem.

The Wildcats' stifling defense shut out Vandy the rest of the way, and UK went on to a 69-63 victory. It was considered one of UK's toughest tests of the season. The 'Cats are now in a position to make it through league play undefeated. UK's remaining games are at home against Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Georgia, and on the road against Mississippi State and Florida.

“I think this Kentucky team is as good as a lot of the really, really great teams I've seen in our league,” said Kevin Stallings, who is in his 13th season at Vandy. “It's very, very difficult to go undefeated in the SEC. I've seen it only one time.

“But the way they defend, they have a chance to do it. They're a terrific defensive team. Their defense gives them a chance to win every night.”

Donovan said it's defense and a lot of other things UK does well.

“They have the ability to win a lot of different ways,” he said. “If they're having a bad night shooting the ball, they can do it defensively — posting up and getting to the free-throw line. They can slow the game down; they can play fast.

“They can win in almost any situation they're in.”

Because this is the SEC, winning out won't come easy, Calipari said.

“I expect our game at Florida to be very tough to win,” he said. “Our game with Vanderbilt will be very difficult. Mississippi State may have as much talent as any team we've played. It will be very difficult.

“But for us, it's not about running the table. It's about putting ourselves in the best position at the end of the year to make a run (at the national title).”

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