Here are a few things to watch in Southeastern Conference basketball this weekend:
GAME OF THE WEEKEND
Florida (17-9, 9-4) at No. 10 Kentucky (21-5, 11-2): The host Wildcats have won five in a row and stand alone atop the standings with a two-game edge on Florida, Auburn and LSU — the latter two of which have lost consecutive games. Meanwhile, Florida has regrouped from a 17-point loss at Mississippi to win its last three by an average margin of 16.3 points. The Gators have won five of six overall since a three-game slide and look to bolster their quest to earn one of the top four seeds and a double bye for next month’s conference tournament in Nashville. Kentucky has won the past two matchups since dropping three of four. The schools will meet again on March 7 in the regular-season finale in Gainesville.
Since getting waxed 83-58 by rival Mississippi last week, Mississippi State (17-9, 8-5) has gutted out consecutive wins by a total of four points to tie for third with South Carolina and maintain NCAA Tournament hopes. The Bulldogs’ rebound included Wednesday’s 79-76 win over the Gamecocks in the first of two meetings between the schools over the next 11 days. In the meantime, MSU can keep rolling with upcoming road matchups at Texas A&M and Missouri sandwiched around Tuesday’s home game against Alabama. All three schools are just below MSU in the standings. The Bulldogs aim to avenge their 21-point loss to ‘Bama during an 0-3 start to SEC play they’ve put behind them by winning 8 of 10.
Alabama has gone 51 of 138 from 3-point range (37%) the past three games. Against Texas A&M, the Crimson Tide was 16 of 44 on 3s and 8 of 15 from two-point range. The Aggies, the SEC’s worst 3-point shooting team (27%), converted a season-best 46% (11 of 24) in that 74-68 victory over the Tide. … Tennessee freshman guard Santiago Vescovi has at least five assists in six of his past seven contests, including seven in Tuesday’s 65-61 win against Vanderbilt. … Kentucky shot 74% in the final 20 minutes Tuesday at LSU, its best half since making 84% against Alabama in the 2018 SEC Tournament. … LSU shot 39% against the Wildcats, the first time in 11 games the Tigers failed to shoot at least 42%. They continue to lead the SEC in field goal percentage at 47.3.
Arkansas guard Mason Jones has averaged 25 points during the Razorbacks’ five-game slide since No. 2 scorer Isaiah Joe underwent arthroscopic debridement surgery on his right knee. The 6-foot-5 junior leads the SEC in scoring (20.8 per game) and the nation in free throws (179) and attempts (218). He has converted 53 of 67 (79%) from the line during that span to help Arkansas (16-10, 4-9) stay close in three of those losses, including two in overtime. Joe has practiced this week and warmed up with the Hogs before Tuesday’s loss at Florida.
ON THE WOMEN’S SIDE
Kentucky forward Rhyne Howard became the program’s second-fastest player to break 1,000 points with 26 in the No. 14 Wildcats’ 73-62 victory Sunday over then-No. 6 Mississippi State. The sophomore achieved the milestone in 53 games despite recently missing three contests with a broken left pinkie. Valerie Still, the school’s career scoring leader with 2,763 points, achieved the milestone in 44 contests. Howard has scored 46 points the past two games since returning and was named SEC player of the week for the fourth time this season on Monday. Kentucky hosts No. 1 South Carolina on Sunday.
AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, contributed to this report.
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