SEC Insider

EAST DIVISION
FLORIDA

The Gators (8-3) -- along with LSU -- did not open SEC play like the rest of the conference earlier this week. Instead, Florida opens its league slate Saturday when it plays host to Arkansas.

"We certainly have a tremendous challenge playing Arkansas," said Florida coach Billy Donavan. "They are off to a great start. I thought last year they had great perimeter players. They are a very well rounded and good basketball team."

Florida's last outing was an 82-69 loss at Florida State on Jan. 2. The Gators are 6-2 at home this season heading into their contest with the Hogs.

GEORGIA
The Bulldogs (6-5, 0-1) suffered a 72-65 home loss against Tennessee on Wednesday in their SEC opener and will look to bounce back Saturday with a trip to South Carolina.

"I expect it to be a real stiff challenge for our team," said Georgia coach Dennis Felton. "They are very well coached and very athletic. They have some experience but the biggest thing is they play really hard. We are working on our ability to play consistently hard, we have to play hard to have a chance. South Carolina doesn't give you a chance to out effort them very often."

KENTUCKY
Kelenna Azubuike made four 3-pointers and finished with 21 points as No. 8 Kentucky (10-1, 1-0) held on for a 79-75 win over South Carolina on Wednesday night.

Chuck Hayes added 15 points and 10 rebounds for Kentucky (10-1, 1-0 Southeastern Conference), which won its league opener for the 17th time in 18 years. The only loss during that stretch came in 2002 to Mississippi State.

Kentucky will play its final nonconference game of the regular season Sunday, when the Wildcats host No. 2 Kansas.

"We were able to get by a good South Carolina team. Kansas is a team that is undefeated and playing well," said Wildcats coach Tubby Smith. "Bill Self teams are always well-coached and well-disciplined and usually physical. They have some talent throughout their whole roster."

SOUTH CAROLINA
South Carolina (8-4, 0-1) has lost three games to ranked teams this season, having dropped four-point road decisions at Kansas, No. 16 Pittsburgh and most recently Kentucky, where the Gamecocks lost, 79-75, on Wednesday.

South Carolina is now 1-18 against Kentucky in Lexington, winning only in 1997. But four of the last five games between the teams at Rupp Arena have been decided by seven points or less.

The Gamecocks will host Georgia on Saturday.

"As far as Georgia is concerned, I haven't gotten into the game as much as I would like to," said South Carolina coach Dave Odom. "We are still coming off the Kentucky game. What I do know about Georgia is how much better they were the second time we played them last year. I watched them in the SEC Tournament, and the intensity they brought to the court was impressive. They have a young team, but young teams can be hard to play against because they aren't afraid. I am just trying to work on correcting the mistakes on our team. The strength of the Georgia team is the guards."

TENNESSEE
C.J. Watson scored 17 points despite foul trouble, helping Tennessee hold off Georgia 72-65 Wednesday night in the Southeastern Conference.

The Volunteers (8-5, 1-0 SEC) scored 11 straight points after Georgia closed to 60-58 on Steve Newman's basket with 4:44 remaining. Watson accounted for six of those points on free throws. He finished 9-of-10 at the line, leading four Tennessee players in double figures.

The Vols host Vanderbilt on Saturday in their SEC home opener.

"This is a big game for us. Vanderbilt is playing extremely well, and shooting well from the 3-point line," said Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson. "Looking forward to it, and you can't sit back and relax, you have to get ready for your next contest."

VANDERBILT
The Commodores got off to a good start in SEC play with an impressive, 70-56 win against Alabama in Nashville on Wednesday.

"We have been playing good basketball. We felt like for about 33 or 34 minutes we played really good basketball against Alabama," said Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings. "We have been pleased with how we have been playing, and we feel we have made progress this last month."

Vandy (10-4, 1-0) has now won six in a row and visits Tennessee on Saturday.

"I hope we have a lot of confidence, I think the confidence is coming from the fact that our team is beginning to trust itself and each other," Stallings said. "I think when that happens you play at a higher level. We obviously still have breakdowns, but if you get five guys playing together and supporting each other, it really elevates the level of confidence for the team."

WEST DIVISION
ALABAMA

The Crimson Tide (11-3, 0-1) was handed a 70-56 setback at Vanderbilt in its SEC opener on Wednesday and will look to bounce back Saturday when LSU visits Tuscaloosa.

"We've got to regroup from last night. We didn't play very well," said Alabama coach Mike Gottfreid. "First thing that jumps out at you with LSU is trying to figure out a way to guard Brandon Bass.

"I think they (Vanderbilt) shot the ball extremely well, first of all. When they shoot the ball like that, they made some tough shots. We didn't defend them as well as we thought we could either. We have to look at ourselves a little bit and get ready to play on Saturday."

ARKANSAS
Eric Ferguson scored 14 points and Ronnie Brewer added 13 as Arkansas rolled past Ole Miss, 69-46, in the SEC opener for both teams on Wednesday.

The Razorbacks (13-1) are amid their best start since their glory years of the early 1990s, but only two victories - over Missouri and Mississippi -- have come against teams from major conferences.

Arkansas will now face its biggest road test to date with a trip to Florida on Saturday in a game being televised at 11 a.m. on Jefferson Pilot Sports.

"We have good momentum and we are starting to build some confidence," said Razorbacks coach Stan Heath. "We know it is going to be a tough game but we are up to the challenge. We realize that Matt Walsh is doubtful for the game, that is a loss for Florida obviously, but we know that Roberson and Lee are big players that can step up for them.

"Going to Florida is never an easy game."

AUBURN
The Tigers have not beaten Mississippi State since pulling out a 60-56 win in January of 2001. But Wednesday's 90-53 loss took the frustration to a new level against the Bulldogs.

"It was a tough game for us, with our lack of talent and size," said Auburn coach Jeff Lebo. "Missed shots affected us on the defensive side, and it wore on us and in the second half it snowballed."

Lebo said his team's disadvantage inside the paint is a big reason for the struggles so far.

"It's tough to be creative. For us the biggest thing is that we have to make shots. If we make shots, that's the only way we have a chance. We have to do a better job at gang-rebounding and we got to get some luck. It's a challenge and we have been able to hide it at times, but when you get into league play against teams who throw three or four big men at you it wears on you."

LSU
The Tigers (6-4) suffered a 69-55 loss at Utah on Monday and did not get in a midweek SEC game like most of the league. LSU will instead open up its conference schedule Saturday with a visit to Alabama.

"We have been playing away, and we have had a two-week break for exams," said LSU associate head coach Butch Pierre. "We are trying to create an identity for ourselves. This team has to grow up, and grow up in hurry going to Alabama this weekend."

MISSISSIPPI STATE
Lawrence Roberts had 19 points and 15 rebounds, and No. 18 Mississippi State beat Auburn 90-53 on Wednesday night in the teams' Southeastern Conference opener.

Winsome Frazier and Jamall Edmonson each had 12 points for the Bulldogs (13-2), the defending regular-season champions who shot 50 percent from the field to win their eighth straight over Auburn.

Mississippi State used a 21-6 run early in the second half to break the game open. Frazier had two 3-pointers and Ontario Harper had six points during the spurt, which gave the Bulldogs a 58-33 lead with 12:12 remaining.

It was the third straight game Roberts had double-figures in both points and rebounds, and the reigning SEC player of the year was one rebound shy of that by halftime.

The Bulldogs (13-2) visit rival Ole Miss on Saturday.

"It's never easy when you go on the road, particularly to Ole Miss," said Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury. "Coach Barnes has done a great job with this team, getting them to play hard. He has a lot of balance on this team, and we understand how difficult this game to going to be playing up there."

OLE MISS
The Rebels (9-5, 0-1) fell hard at Arkansas, 69-46, on Wednesday in the SEC opener for both schools. But things don't get much easier when the Rebels play host to defending Western Division champ Mississippi State on Saturday.

"We are a team that just got off a tough loss against Arkansas. We have to bounce back," said Ole Miss coach Rod Barnes. "We have our arch rival coming to our place and they are very talented and playing very well. We will be prepared for the challenge."


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