By LARRY VAUGHT
A week ago Kentucky was 6-7 in Southeastern Conference play and had lost four straight games after letting a late lead slip away at Auburn.
That left coach John Calipari’s team in seventh place in the SEC and not assured of not even having to play on the first night of the SEC tourney when the bottom four teams play.
Now Kentucky has a home win over Alabama and road win at Arkansas and suddenly finds itself tied for THIRD PLACE in the SEC with three games to go — and Kentucky gets to play two of them at home against Missouri and then Ole Miss.
Auburn beat Alabama Wednesday night to move to 12-3 in league play and all but clinch the league crown. Tennessee beat Florida Wednesday and is now 10-5 and probably assured of second place.
Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Missouri and Mississippi State are all 8-7 and fighting for the final two byes into the SEC Tournament quarterfinals.
Arkansas plays at Alabama Saturday. That will produce an eighth loss for one of the two teams. Kentucky hosts Missouri and the loser will have eight losses. Florida will host Auburn and Mississippi State will host South Carolina.
On Tuesday Florida has to go to Alabama while Mississippi State will host Tennessee, Missouri will be at Vanderbilt, and Auburn will be at Arkansas.
If Kentucky can beat Missouri Saturday and then Ole Miss on Wednesday, it should find itself in the top four in the league going into its season-ending game at Florida on March 3. Mississippi State, Arkansas and Missouri all close league play on the road that same day.
“I think this league is deeper, both individually and with the teams., than any year since I have been here,” Kentucky assistant coach Joel Justus said. ” I think there are really good players, you know, one through eight, one through nine on each team. That’s impressive to me.
“I think its experience as well. I think you have some guys that have been through the battles of the SEC. And the league has just improved each year. So then those players are getting better. And then flip that back, I think those guys get better by playing against good players, similar to what we talk about here.
“So I think that is the No. 1 reason why the league is better: the players. The players are what make anybody go. And this is in no disrespect to anyone that was here when I got here but I think you’ve got some really good coaches that have come into the league in the last couple years, and I think that is head coaches and assistant coaches.”