By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today
Top-seeded Kentucky has a double-bye in the Southeastern Conference Tournament and will take on the winner of the Alabama-Tennessee contest at 1 p.m. Friday in the quarterfinals at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
No. 2 Auburn will take on the Texas A&M-Missouri winner at 7 p.m., while third seed LSU will play South Carolina, Arkansas or Vanderbilt at 8:30 p.m. Friday. Mississippi State is a No. 4 seed and meets Florida, Ole Miss or Georgia at 2:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon.
Kentucky, which rallied from an 18-point deficit to beat Florida 71-70 in the regular-season finale, defeated Alabama 76-67 on Jan. 11 in Lexington and split with the Volunteers this season. The Wildcats (25-6, 15-3) defeated Tennessee 77-64 in Knoxville on Feb. 8 and dropped a disappointing 81-73 decision last Tuesday, ending the team’s eight-game winning streak.
A week that began in disappointment for Kentucky ended up in jubilation.
“They were pouring water on each other,” UK coach John Calipari said. “And this game gave us a higher seed in our conference tournament (rolls eyes, because obviously it didn’t), It didn’t, and they’re pouring water on each other in there, so they love to win.”
Kentucky rebounded from the setback and recovered from an 18-point deficit in the second half to complete a regular-season sweep and a fourth straight win over the Gators.
Kentucky was without point guard Ashton Hagans who missed the trip to Gainesville to sort out “personal issues” and leading scorer Immanuel Quickley fouled out with nine minutes remaining in the contest.
Calipari fully expects Hagans to be back with the team next week.
“Hopefully what you’ll see is an inspired young man,” the Kentucky coach said. “And if he doesn’t think he’s ready for that, then he’s not ready. We’re going to go with whoever we have.”
Like Calipari, junior Nick Richards is looking forward to Hagans’ return.
“That’s our brother,” he said. “We love him. We can’t wait for him to come back. We love him, we’re going to pray for him, we’re going to be there for him. But we had to do it today without him. We just have to be patient with him.”
In his latest Bracketology, Joe Lunardi has the Wildcats a No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region. Kansas is No. 1 in the region, followed by the Wildcats, Louisville third and Michigan State fourth.
“Hopefully we’re in a great frame of mind going into this tournament,” Calipari said. “(The) tournament is going to be crazy.”
Baylor (South), Gonzaga (West) and San Diego State (East) are the other three projected top seeds. Lunardi has Kentucky (Midwest), Florida State (South), Creighton (West) and Dayton (East) as the No. 2 seeds.
Gametracker: Kentucky vs, Tennessee-Alabama winner, 1 p.m., Friday, Nashville.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.