Originally created 03/03/00

SEC notes: Gators facing big obstacle on road to conference title



Florida is guaranteed a share of the Southeastern Conference championship, but rest assured the Gators won't be celebrating if a certain set of circumstances plays out Saturday.

A loss at Kentucky, coupled with a Tennessee win at Georgia, would kick Florida to a No. 3 seed in next week's SEC Tournament and without a first-round bye.

With a win, the Gators own sole possession of the second conference title in their history. So you don't risk overstatement by suggesting the noon game in Lexington, Ky., is huge.

"We realize we have a tremendous challenge ahead of ourselves in Lexington," Florida coach Billy Donovan said.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is where and when the game is being played. Kentucky (21-8, 11-4) has lost just once on Senior Day since 1964 -- a 1997 defeat to South Carolina that gave the Gamecocks their first conference title.

What's more, the Gators' last trip to Rupp Arena saw them spanked, 93-58.

Donovan said his team has matured since then.

"Last year's game was our first SEC game," he said. "I didn't think our guys had any clue or comprehension of what it was to play on the road."

From a preparation standpoint, Florida might be at a disadvantage. Since the NCAA requires one day off a week, Florida didn't practice Thursday and boards a flight for Lexington today.

"We got no excuses," Donovan said. "We got to go in there and play to the best of our ability."

DAN THE MAN:

High scoring totals are nothing new to Vanderbilt forward Dan Langhi, whose 32 points in Wednesday's 101-89 win over Georgia was his fifth game of 30 or more.

But what most impresses Commodores coach Kevin Stallings is Langhi's precision; the senior's gaudy numbers came on 11-of-13 shooting.

"It's amazing to me that a guy can score 32 points on 13 shots," Stallings said of Langhi, who is leading the league in scoring with 22.7 points per game.

FRUITY FANS:

Oranges splattering on the floor isn't what most Tennessee faithful envision when they yell "Go Big Orange."

Play was stopped on two occasions Wednesday after fans heaved oranges onto the floor during the Volunteers' 73-66 win over visiting Arkansas.

It left a sour taste in the mouth of Razorbacks coach Nolan Richardson.

"That's the most distasteful thing you can have is people throwing objects on the floor," he said. "What if one of the kids slipped and busted his head?"

EVIL GENIUS JR?

The No. 8 Gators have won nine of their past 10 games and the past four by an average of 25.3 points, and their success doesn't figure to be end anytime soon.

Donovan uses a 10-man rotation that includes four freshmen and three sophomores.

It's all enough to make South Carolina coach Eddie Fogler, whose prickly relationship with Donovan has been well chronicled, set aside his differences -- if only for a moment.

"They play the game of basketball better than anyone in the SEC," said Fogler, whose Gamecocks fell 87-67 on Wednesday in Gainesville, Fla. "They could be the best team in the league if they can win of Saturday, but they play the game better than the rest of the teams in the league."

LOW TIDE:

Alabama's hopes for an NIT bid took a hit with Wednesday's 63-59 loss at Ole Miss, a defeat that dropped the Crimson Tide's road record to 0-9.

After recent upset victories over Vanderbilt, Auburn and Tennessee, it appeared Alabama (13-14, 6-9) was poised for a late-season run.

Now the Tide mist win Saturday at Mississippi State, plus a game in the SEC Tournament.

"Mathematically, we've got to win two straight," said Alabama coach Mark Gottfried. "Whether we're good enough to do that, we have to find out."

FREE THROWS:

With a loss to Tennessee, Georgia (10-18, 3-12) would have its fewest number of victories in the SEC since the 1976-77 season. The Bulldogs have won once since Jan. 22. ... Vanderbilt assured itself of a winning conference record with its victory over the Bulldogs, and the Commodores' projected RPI rating of No. 29 suggests they'll be the sixth SEC team placed in the NCAA Tournament. ... The Volunteers' win over Arkansas gave them 23 victories, a school record. ... Arkansas needs a victory over No. 19 Auburn, which visits Fayetteville on Sunday, to assure itself of a winning record entering the SEC Tournament and to be eligible for a bid to the NIT.

Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645.