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Sports Notes: Cats' shot at all-time school, SEC streak could be third win over Gators

John Calipari has twice led the Wildcats to undefeated SEC seasons, 2012 in addition to this year.  UK won the national championship in 2012 (Jamie Vaught Photo)

John Calipari has twice led the Wildcats to undefeated SEC seasons, 2012 in addition to this year. UK won the national championship in 2012 (Jamie Vaught Photo)


One year ago, it was Florida running the table in the Southeastern Conference, winning all 18 of its league games — including two over Kentucky.

Billy Donovan’s Gators then tripped up the Wildcats for a third time in the SEC Tournament finals and, had Florida gotten past Connecticut in the NCAA semifinals, there could have been a fourth matchup of the teams in the same season.

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Cat fans were fairly evenly divided over whether they wanted that game to happen, some certain that there was no way a John Calipari team finally playing to its talent level would lose to the same team for a fourth time. Others were just as sure that the Gators simply had UK’s number.

Of course, we’ll never know. Kentucky defeated Wisconsin, but Connecticut eliminated Florida and you know the rest.

Kentucky, which became the second team to navigate through an 18-game SEC schedule without a loss, could also get some measure of revenge against the Gators in this week’s SEC tourney. If the ninth-seeded Gators can scramble past No. 8 Alabama Thursday at 1 p.m., they would advance to meet the Cats Friday at 1 p.m. on the SEC Network.

Defeating Donovan’s team for a third time would also bring UK its 32nd win in a row. Despite what the commentators on CBS said following the UK-Florida game on Saturday, that would match both the program and conference record for consecutive victories. This year’s team could then secure both records with a win in the semifinals Saturday at 1 p.m.

Not to go too far out on a limb here, but I don’t think there will be a fourth game with the Gators this year either.

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A keen observer close to the Wilcat basketball program made a couple of observations worth sharing:

One of the more misleading stats in college basketball, at least this year when UK is involved, is comparing scoring off the bench. With the platoon system in place, and considering that Kentucky usually starts mostly different units to begin the game and the second half, the Cats are interchangeable. It’s not really “points off the bench” when playing time is shared virtually equally.

Secondly, despite the mountains of attention ESPN and other national outlets have given over to coverage of the Cats this year, they still manage to get basic facts wrong. In ESPN.com’s game coverage Saturday, it was noted the Karl-Anthony Towns had a big game (13 points, nine rebounds, six blocks) after missing the first meeting of the teams with an illness.

A quick check of the boxscore from the first Florida game would have revealed that Towns played 31 minutes and went for 19 points to go with eight rebounds, arguably his best game of the year. The key player who missed the game with illness, of course, was Trey Lyles.

Wildcats fans don’t like it when you don’t get your facts straight.

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UK defeated Florida on the road by a 68-62 margin with Willie Cauley-Stein scoring 13 points and Devin Booker 12. The game’s top scorer, though, was Aaron Harrison, who had 23 points and all three of the baskets Kentucky made from behind the arc. Of course, Senior Day resulted in a more comfortable 67-50 win.

Back on Jan. 31, the Cats handled Alabama 70-55 as Cauley-Stein and Towns each tallied 12 points, Booker added 11 and Harrison 10. Kentucky was seven of 15 from three-point range in that game.

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Murray State’s Racers were one of the feel-good stories in college basketball this year, but their historic season could well end without a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Belmont upset Murray 88-87 in the OVC tournament finals as the Racers let an eight-point halftime lead slip away. Coach Steve Prohm’s team seemed to be in control, leading by two with time running out, but Bruin guard Taylor Barnette, a Lexington Christian Academy product, sank an awkward, fall-away three with just three seconds to play and the OVC’s No. 1 team saw its school-record 25-game winning streak come to an end.

Murray finally inched into the bottom of the national rankings last week and there is a Twitter campaign supporting its case (27-5 record, OVC regular season champions) to get a bid to the NCAA tournament, but most observers believe that the OVC is a one-bid league and that one goes to Belmont. If MSU does not get an at-large bid, it will get one to the NIT, according to the school’s website.

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A few leftover notes from the Florida game, in case you missed them:

• At 31-0, Kentucky became the first team from a “power five” conference to go undefeated in the regular season since Indiana did so in 1976 (and we all know how that season turned out).

• This is the 15th time in school history that Kentucky made an undefeated run in the SEC and the second time under Calipari (2012, and we all know how that season turned out).

• Kentucky set a school record with 19 home wins, eclipsing the record of 18 set in 1985-86, 2009-10 and 2011-12.

• In the 39-year history of Rupp Arena, this is the 12th time Kentucky been unbeaten at home and it’s fourth time in Calipari’s six season.

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The Mid-South Conference did a nice thing in Frankfort Saturday prior to playing the semifinals of the men’s basketball tournament. On Saturday morning the four participating teams, Campbellsville, Cumberland (Ky.), Georgetown and Pikeville, held a basketball clinic for 30 children and young adults from the nearby Stewart Home and School.

“One of the principles of the champions of character program is giving back to the community and to those who support you,” Mid-South commissioner Eric Ward said. “During our stay in Frankfort, we wanted to give back to those in this community who has supported the Mid-South and our basketball tournament. These students have really enjoyed interacting with our student-athletes and our student-athletes have gotten a lot out of this experience as well.”

According to its website, the Stewart Home & School has been a community dedicated to the education of students with intellectual disabilities since it was established in 1893. The school’s philosophy has always centered on providing enriched opportunities for the pursuit of happiness — “a lifestyle of choice for its students and their families.”

Campbellsville defeated Cumberlands in the men’s championship game while Shawnee State was a winner over Campbellsville in the women’s tournament. A number of conference teams are likely to receive bids to the upcoming NAIA National Championship.

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