Kentucky sits alone in second place in the Southeastern Conference after the Wildcats defeated Auburn in Rupp Arena Saturday.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – I wonder if John Calipari has stolen Charlie Strong's playbook:
Disregard the nasty things that people say about the strength of your league and competition. Win. Improve. Win. Improve. You can only beat the teams that are on your schedule. Keep doing that and interesting things will happen.
Southeastern Conference basketball is about as respected as the Big East football competition Strong encountered at Louisville this season, but interesting things are happening for Calipari's surging team. The Wildcats defeated Auburn, 72-62, in Rupp Arena Saturday afternoon. The victory was Kentucky's fifth straight. They're 8-2 in the SEC, 17-6 overall.
Get this: Now, like Strong's football team, Kentucky gets its big moment against Florida.
If Kentucky, which is unranked, wins at No. 2 Florida Tuesday night, the Wildcats will move into a first-place tie in the Southeastern Conference.
Never mind that Kentucky has beaten one team – Ole Miss – that figures to make the NCAA Tournament. A share of first place is a share of first place.
Can Kentucky defeat Florida?
Jeff Sagarin's computer rankings indicate that Florida will be favored by 9 ½ points. Ken Pomeroy has the Gators by 16.
KING KYLE: Remember when Kyle Wiltjer was Calipari's primary whipping boy? When he started SEC play by scoring two points in 33 combined minutes against Vanderbilt and Texas A&M?
Wiltjer scored in double figures for the sixth time in eight games, leading the Wildcats with 14 points. He made a pair of three-point shots.
TRICKERATION: Alex Poythress delivered the most crowd pleasing moment of the day, whipping a behind-the back bounce pass to Willie Cauley-Stein from near the top of the lane for a layup with less than nine minutes to play. It woke up the crowd, produced a standing ovation and pushed Kentucky ahead, 57-44.
Pete Maravich couldn't have done it much better.
THE BEAUTY OF BALANCE: Archie Goodwin scored only three points, but it didn't matter. Five Wildcats scored in double figures -- Wiltjer (14), Willie Cauley-Stein (12), Ryan Harrow (12), Nerlens Noel (10) and Julius Mays (10).
PAGING POLSON – Jarrod Polson is becoming more than a five-minute man for Calipari. He played double-figure minutes for the seventh consecutive game, sometimes replacing Harrow, but subbing for Archie Goodwin as well. He played 20 minutes, finishing with three points and a pair of assists. Goodwin only scored three points.
TEMPER TEMPER – After a fight occurred during the Missouri-Ole Miss game earlier Saturday, the officials were in no mood to tolerate any silly stuff. When Auburn forward Jordan Granger threw a punch at Kentucky's Archie Goodwin with 1:12 to play in the first half, Granger earned a flagrant-two as well as an automatic ejection.
Granger and Goodwin tangled in the lane after a Kentucky free throw attempt.
THE ICEMAN RETURNETH – Auburn in the house means Milt Wagner in the house. Wagner, a star on Louisville's 1986 NCAA championship team, serves as assistant coach for Tony Barbee and Auburn.
He got his start in coaching at Memphis with John Calipari when his son, Dajuan, played for the Tigers during the 2001-02 season.
Wagner was the first-round pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2002, but a series of health issues have derailed his career. Much of Wagner's colon has been removed. Milt said that Dajuan, 30, finally has his digestive issues under control and that he is living in New Jersey, training for another shot at the NBA next fall.
"I think he's going to play again," Milt said. "He's feeling better than he's felt in a long time."
THE NEXT ICEMAN: Heads up recruiting lovers. There is another Wagner on the way. Dajuan Wagner Jr. Milt said that his grandson is 7 ½. "He's looking like the best one yet," Milt said. "He's tough to stop. And he's really good at football, too."
WELCOME BACK: Coach Joe B. Hall's 1978 NCAA championship team was honored during a timeout in the first half. Jack Givens, James Lee, Kyle Macy, Mike Phillips, Truman Claytor, Fred Cowan, Jay Shidler and several other players appeared at mid-court, along with popular assistant coach Dicky Parsons.
RECRUITING UPDATE: Trey Lyles of Indianapolis Tech attended the game. Lyles, a 6-foot-9 forward, is ranked the fifth best prospect nationally in the Class of 2014 by Scout.com.
Lyles had been committed to Indiana for nearly two years. He de-committed last summer, and Kentucky is considered the team to beat. Duke, Butler, Florida, Louisville, North Carolina and UCLA are also involved.
UP NEXT: The Game of the Year is next for the Wildcats – a Tuesday trip to Gainesville to play Florida at 7 p.m. Billy Donovan's team has been parked at the top of the SEC all season, even after the Gators' jarring loss at Arkansas Tuesday.
Donovan has work to do to keep his team playing at a high level. Reserve forward Will Yeguete, Florida's sixth man, will miss at least the remainder of the regular season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his knee. He's been Florida's second-leading rebounder at 6.3 per game. He also averages 6 points.
QUOTING CAL: "I'm happy for Jarrod Polson. I'm happy for Willie Cauley. It was all energy."
QUOTING BARBEE: "I don't know what happened in the rest of the league today. I thought our guys played a clean game."