By LARRY VAUGHT
Remember during the preseason that it was Mississippi State coach Ben Howland who said he thought Tennessee, not Kentucky, should be favored to win the SEC championship — a statement that UK fans didn’t like one bit.
However, guess who is No. 1 in the COUNTRY this week? Yes, it is 16-1 Tennessee. The Vols are unbeaten in SEC play and obviously lead the league.
But that doesn’t mean Howland is not impressed with Kentucky, which jumped to No. 8 in the rankings after its win at Auburn, going into Tuesday night’s game in Rupp Arena.
“Really talented and very strong inside,” Howland said about UK. “Their two freshman wings are spectacular, (Keldon) Johnson and (Tyler) Herro, are really good players. Obviously, (Ashton) Hagans is playing great. He’s the leading scorer now in the conference. He creates a lot with his defense as well, creates problems.”
Well, Hagans is not leading the conference in scoring. He’s up to 7.5 points per game but he does lead UK in assists and steals. He has had three or more steals in seven straight games, a school record, and has three or more assists in 10 straight games.
But Howland also warned not to underestimate UK’s inside attack.
“Their inside attack with (PJ) Washington, he’s played well all year long. He’s been consistent,” Howland said. “(Reid) Travis is really a load inside because of his strength, size and experience being a fifth-year graduate transfer from Stanford. They come off (the bench) with good players coming in the game quickly. I really like their big that comes in, No. 4 (Nick Richards), he’s good.”
“They have depth, talent and are really well coached. They have been through a lot of battles and played a lot of good opponents. I mean, they’re really well coached. They play great defensively. They have length and size.”