Here are a few things to watch as the Southeastern Conference schools enter February:
GAME OF THE WEEKEND
After rallying to avoid being upset by Vanderbilt, No. 13 Kentucky (16-4, 6-1 SEC) looks to Saturday night’s showdown at No. 17 Auburn (18-2, 5-2). It’s the first meeting between the schools since Auburn beat Kentucky 77-71 in overtime in last spring’s NCAA Tournament Midwest Region final to reach the Final Four. The second-place Wildcats can stay within reach of LSU and widen their edge on the third-place Tigers. Auburn has won two of the last three meetings at home, though the Wildcats won 82-80 there last season. Kentucky has won four in a row overall and eight of nine since dropping consecutive games to Utah and Ohio State in December. Junior forward Nick Richards continued his recent roll, matching his career high with 25 points and grabbing 14 rebounds in a 76-74 overtime win over then-No. 18 Texas Tech in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. He’s averaging 17.3 points and 9.9 rebounds over his past nine games. Auburn is coming off an 83-82 double overtime win at Mississippi on Tuesday night in which the Tigers rallied from a 19-point second-half deficit. The Tigers have also won four straight and rank third in scoring at 79.3 points per game.
Vanderbilt faces a stiff challenge to end its conference skid. The Commodores’ quest to end their record 25-game regular-season SEC losing streak is daunting with their next five opponents at .500 or better in league play. The Commodores (8-12, 0-7) host Florida on Saturday in the first of two meetings in 14 days against the Gators. Between those matchups is a stretch including first-place LSU at home on Wednesday and a visit to Mississippi State on Feb. 8 before Kentucky comes in three days later. “It’s going to take a big effort from everyone night in and night out, and we’re going to have to make shots,” first-year coach Jerry Stackhouse said after losing 71-62 Tuesday at Kentucky. “But if we defend the way we’re capable of, that will give us a chance to hang around and eventually string together maybe a few games for us.”
Missouri also rallied big on Tuesday, overcoming a 20-point second-half deficit to beat Georgia 72-69 and end a four-game losing streak. ... LSU has won nine in a row, but its defeat of Alabama was the first by more than four points in seven games. The Tigers also completed their second consecutive perfect January. ... Mississippi State’s 78-71 win Tuesday at Florida was its first since 2008 and ended a six-game drought in Gainesville. ... Kentucky sophomore guard Ashton Hagans has had at least five assists for 17 consecutive games, the best streak since Tyler Ulis’ 24-game stretch in 2015-16.
LSU guard Skylar Mays has been a key component in several areas for the No. 22 Tigers in SEC play. The 6-foot-4 senior is averaging 16.7 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.0 steals while shooting 87% from the foul line in SEC games. Mays made all eight free throws in Wednesday’s 90-76 win against Alabama for 18 points, with four assists and three steals. He was among five Tigers to score in double figures in the win.
ON THE WOMEN’S SIDE
No. 1 South Carolina (20-1, 8-0) brings a 14-game winning streak into Sunday’s matchup against No. 22 Tennessee (17-4, 7-1), the lone regular-season meeting between the schools. The Gamecocks have beaten SEC foes by an average margin of 26.5 points per game. The Volunteers enter having won six of seven. Tennessee junior guard/forward Rennia Davis is fourth in SEC scoring (18.1 points) and sixth in rebounding (8.2) and had 30 points with eight rebounds Sunday at LSU. South Carolina freshman forward Aliyah Boston is fifth in rebounds (8.9) and tied for 19th in scoring (13.2). ... Kentucky announced that sophomore Rhyne Howard, the SEC's top scorer at 23.2 points per game, is out until mid-February with a broken left pinkie.
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