Felton Calls SEC Hoops 'Brutally Strong'

FAYETTEVILLE -- Dennis Felton, whose Georgia team surprised Arkansas 67-64 on Wednesday night, sang the praises of Southeastern Conference basketball on Thursday.

By Grant Hall
The Morning News

"I think the SEC is the most powerful conference in the country," Felton said. "Just watching the level of play in our league compared to games I see on TV -- it's a brutally strong conference right now. So many tough teams, great coaches, great depth."

Georgia, 11-5 overall and 3-1 in the SEC, trails 4-0 Florida by a game in the SEC East, which has a division record of 13-8 compared to the SEC West's 8-13. But Felton sees no "gimmes" ahead.

"There are about 300 teams I'd rather play than teams like Mississippi and Auburn, which were supposed to be at the bottom of our league along with Georgia," Felton said.

Tennessee's Bruce Pearl, who is suffering through the first three-game losing streak of his coaching career, agreed with Felton.

"I keep looking for Youngstown State and Cleveland State on my schedule, but they're not there," Pearl said. "In our league, South Carolina has beaten USC, Vanderbilt beat Georgia Tech, we beat Memphis, Oklahoma State and Texas and had Ohio State beat (before losing 68-66)."

Pearl was preaching to the choir, which included Kentucky tenor Tubby Smith.

"There's no question this is the strongest conference in the country, top to bottom," Smith intoned. "You'd better come with your best game every night. It's amazing how good these young players are -- the freshmen and sophomores."

Auburn, just 12-7 overall but 2-2 for second place in the SEC West, rallied from 14 points behind in the second half to upset No. 22 Tennessee on Wednesday night.

"We went down to (Auburn campus hangout) Toomer's Corner and rolled it," Auburn coach Jeff Lebo said. "That's what we did after the game Wednesday night. I chucked up a few. I've done it before and after football games, but never after a basketball game."



KENNEDY FEELS LONELY

While Arkansas lost a 16-game home winning streak on Wednesday, Ole Miss couldn't keep LSU from extending its home streak to 19, as LSU won 62-55.

"My brother was one of our three fans at LSU," Rebels coach Andy Kennedy joked.

Ole Miss, seeking a faster tempo this season, went into the game as the SEC's second-leading team in field goal attempts -- a stat Kennedy applauded -- but didn't take enough quality shots in Baton Rouge.

"We're still not understanding the difference between good shots and bad shots," Kennedy said.

The Rebels go into the frying pan at Florida on Saturday.



GOTTFRIED PERPLEXED

Alabama coach Mark Gottfried, whose team got ambushed 94-73 at Vanderbilt on Wednesday night, said inconsistent defense has held the No. 10 Crimson Tide back this season.

"You've got to get there every night on defense," Gottfried said. "Vanderbilt took advantage of every defensive mistake we made and capitalized with a 3-pointer every time. They just played terrific basketball."

Gottfried added, "They could go out there this afternoon in some dummy offensive drills and I'm not sure they'd shoot as well as they did Wednesday night."



FELTON REDUX

Felton was happy with Georgia's patience against Arkansas.

"Things were looking a little bleak for us when Arkansas got a seven-point (62-55) lead," Felton said. "In a timeout with 2:20 left I said, 'Let's not waste an opportunity by rushing.'

"The three 3s we got were scored out of our team offense. That got some momentum back for us. Sundiata Gaines (8 assists, 0 turnovers) made a special defensive play (to deflect the ball from Arkansas' Gary Ervin) and Takias Brown made a very poised choice of not pushing the ball ahead.

"Our players have grown in our belief system in the closing stages of games. Gaines had a tremendous game. He was good at keeping the tempo fast, going to offense for us."


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