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Sports Notes: Kentucky just one of many state basketball teams chasing history this season

Murray State has been one of the better stories in the state this year with an unbeaten OVC season and the nation's second-longest active winning streak (MSU Athletics Photo)

Murray State has been one of the better stories in the state this year with an unbeaten OVC season and the nation’s second-longest active winning streak (MSU Athletics Photo)


Kentucky extended the second-longest winning streak in program history to 29 wins in a row Saturday, topping Arkansas 84-67 and improving to 6-0 when playing against nationally ranked teams.

In arguably their “biggest” games of the year against their most glamorous opponents, UK has won by an average margin of 17.2 points.

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Readers of this column and other sports-related media outlets are probably not surprised by these facts. Basketball followers can not escape the fact that John Calipari’s top-ranked and unbeaten Wildcats stand just two wins away from a perfect (overall and SEC) season and can reach 31-0 by taking down Georgia on the road on Tuesday and Florida at home on Saturday.

A win in the SEC tournament matches the program and SEC record for consecutive wins (32) that has stood for 61 years.

But there are a number of good basketball stories being written in other parts of the state as well, stories that have received limited media attention.

• In Murray, the Racers of coach Steve Prohm completed a 26-4 campaign with a six-point road win over Tennessee Martin on Saturday. Murray State has the nation’s second-longest winning streak going at 24 in a row and with a 16-0 mark in the Ohio Valley Conference, it is the first undefeated squad since Austin Peay in 2003-04 and just the fifth in the league’s 67-year history.

Remarkably, heading into this week’s OVC tournament, Murray State had never broken into either the media or coaches top 25 poll. They are 25/24 this week. The Racers go into the OVC tourney as the No. 1 seed and will play in the first semifinal at Municipal Auditorium in Nashville on March 6.

The tournament begins Wednesday March 4 and the Racers will play one of three teams in the upper part of the bracket. No. 5 seed Morehead State plays No. 8 Southeast Missouri with the winner taking on No. 4 UTM on March 5.

• Staying in the OVC for a minute, Eastern Kentucky entered the final week of the regular season a half game behind Belmont in the East Division race. The Colonels needed three home wins over six days to claim the division title and the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament in the bracket opposite Murray State.

Mission accomplished.

EKU (19-10, 11-5 OVC) won eight of its final nine games, including home victories over Austin Peay, Jacksonville State and Tennessee Tech. The Colonels, coached by Jeff Neubauer, will play in the late semifinal game on March 6, facing the winner of the quarterfinal contest between the No. 3 seed Belmont and the winner of the No. 6 Eastern Illinois/No. 7 SIU Edwardsville first round game.

Eastern has been led all season by its seniors, most notably Corey Walden, Eric Stutz and Timmy Knipp. Walden contributed a career-high 35 points in the season-finale win over Tennessee Tech and Stutz added 17 points and five assists.

For more information about the men’s and women’s OVC tournaments, click on this link.

• Over in Conference USA, Western Kentucky’s women’s team claimed at least a share of the regular season championship with an 88-47 win over Florida International, their 25th victory of the season.

WKU (25-4, 14-2) won its first title as a member of Conference USA in its inaugural season in the league. It marks the 11th regular season conference crown in program history. The Toppers can win the title outright with a victory at home this week against either Old Dominion or Charlotte.

The Hilltoppers reached 25 wins before the month of March for the first time in program history and its victory over Florida Atlantic last week was the 900th all-time. WKU joins Tennessee, Louisiana Tech, James Madison, Old Dominion, Stephen F. Austin, Texas, Stanford, Ohio State, Connecticut and North Carolina as the only women’s programs that have reached the 900-win plateau in their history.

WKU holds a 901-453 all-time record in 1,353 games.

• A pair of NCAA Division III women’s teams also deserve some attention.

Thomas More won the Presidents’ Athletics Conferences’ regular season and tournament titles and is unbeaten for the second year in a row heading into NCAA post-season play. The Saints (27-0) have won nine straight conference championships and made seven consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament. They are led by high-scoring guard Sydney Moss, the PAC Player of the Year.

Transylvania’s women’s team lost in the Heartland Conference Tournament Championship to second-seeded Hanover, 106-98, but got an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament after posting a program-best 25-2 record, which included an undefeated record in HCAC play.

Over the past two seasons, under former coach Greg Todd and current coach Juli Fulks, the Pioneers have posted a 51-5 record. Last year’s team won its first round NCAA tourney game before falling to DePauw on its home floor in the second round.

The Pioneers are led by a pair of high-scoring guards, Nicole Coffman, who scored 37 points in the HCAC tourney finals, and Katelyn Smith, the team’s leading scorer on the year.

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Pikeville’s men’s basketball team, ranked third in the NAIA, lost its season finale to Life, but still shared the Mid South Conference title with Campbellsville. Owning the tie-breaker, Pikeville will enter the MSC Tournament in Frankfort as the No. 1 seed.

The men’s and women’s tournaments begin Thursday and runs through Sunday at the Frankfort Convention Center.

Pikeville and Campbellsville spilt during the regular season and also divided games with third-place Georgetown. The Bears swept fourth-place Cumberlands (Ky.) while Campbellsville split with the Patriots during the season giving Pikeville the No. 1 seed.

For the women, MSC regular season champion and No. 1-seed Campbellsville (27-2) and eighth-seeded St. Catharine (10-20) open the tournament on Thursday. The remainder of the games needed the conference’s tiebreaker to set the seeds after the regular season provided a pair of ties in the standings.

Cumberland (Tenn.), Pikeville and Shawnee State all tied for third in the standings with 8-6 conference records. Shawnee State earned the third seed based on its 3-1 head-to-head record among the three teams. Pikeville is the fourth seed after sweeping Cumberland during the regular season.

Cumberlands (Ky.) and Georgetown finished with 5-9 conference marks to tie for sixth in the standings. The two teams split during the regular season and lost twice to Campbellsville in the first two tiebreaker scenarios. Georgetown ultimately earned the sixth seed after splitting with second-seeded Lindsey Wilson while Cumberlands dropped both meetings with the Blue Raiders.

Campbellsville is ranked fourth in the latest NAIA national women’s poll.

For more tournament information, click this link.

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Florida head coach Billy Donovan recently notched his 500th career win. At 49, he is the second-youngest coach in Division I history to reach the plateau, trailing Bob Knight. They two are the only ones to get to 500 wins before turning 50.

The Gators are just 14-15 overall, 7-9 heading into the final week of the season. The UK-Florida game Saturday is set as the featured game on CBS at 2 p.m.

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