Sports Reporter


P.J. Washington made his final push for SEC player of the year against Florida Saturday. WDRB Photo/Rick Bozich

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) — John Calipari has never seen an NCAA Tournament bracket that he could not improve -- or one that does not include a splash of conspiracy.

Kentucky played 10 superb minutes, especially on defense, to put down Florida, 66-57, in Rupp Arena Saturday afternoon.

Blend in Tennessee's loss at Auburn, and you can argue that the Wildcats have moved back ahead of the Volunteers in the race for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Unless, of course, you believe that Virginia and Gonzaga are locks -- and they will be joined on the top line by North Carolina (which Kentucky beat) and Duke (which Kentucky definitely did not beat).

Calipari knows what he thinks -- and he said so after he was asked if a likely third game between the Wildcats and Vols in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament next weekend in Nashville will settle the discussion.

"No, because they say tournaments really don't matter so if you lose in the first round, we should still be whatever seed we were because there are going to be some teams that do that," Calipari said.

"Why can't we do that? 

"What our seed is now, basically they said that's your seed. The tournaments aren't that big a deal."

Calipari was just warming up.

"I will say (there) will be four brackets and we'll be in by far the toughest, you all know that," he said. "And it will be, they are right, they will call it Murderer's Row. We're used to it.

"Is there anybody undefeated? Because that's probably who we play the first game. No, it was the second game we played them (Wichita State, 2014) the one year."

There are a lot of bogeymen to unwrap in those statements, and I'm certain Calipari will continue this commentary on the bracket long before -- and after -- the Wildcats begin SEC Tournament play against either Alabama or Ole Miss Friday at 7 p.m. (EDT).

The Wildcats (26-5, 15-3) finished behind Louisiana State -- for now. Considering all the crazy stuff happening in Baton Rouge, maybe Kentucky will find itself the SEC champs considering that LSU appears to be on a fast track toward vacating everything the Tigers have achieved this season.

Calipari started Senior Day by starting walk-on Jonny David but not starting Reid Travis, who missed his fifth consecutive complete game since injuring his knee against Missouri Feb. 19.

Will Travis play in Nashville? Or in the NCAA Tournament? Or not at all?

The plot thickens.

"I've absolutely stayed out of it," Calipari said. "I really haven't even talked to the doctors because these kids know their bodies and I don't want him or anyone to think I'm pushing him to play if he's not -- if he's not right ... we'll do fine. If he plays, I'll be doing back flips. If he doesn't play, we'll just figure it out."

People around the team still say that Travis will return, probably next week. But against the Gators, Travis sat on the bench in sweat clothes.

For Kentucky, most of the sparkle in this game was applied on the defensive end in the second half. Florida huffed and puffed its way to 11 of 27 shooting in the second half. The Gators made one shot from distance.

"Defensively, wow!" Florida coach Mike White said. "They're just elite. Speed, quickness, toughness, strength. They've got a bunch of girth."

Only six of Calipari’s guys scored. Four of them — P. J. Washington (15 points), Tyler Herro (16), Ashton Hagans (14) and Keldon Johnson (14) — had all but seven of the Wildcats' points.

The Wildcats punished the Gators at the free-throw line, making 26 of 32, while outscoring the Gators by 20 points

In the first half, Kentucky played like a team that was bored by whatever meaning the rest of us continue to put in regular season achievements.

Five weeks after rolling into Gainesville and defeating Florida by 11, the Wildcats trailed the Gators by a point at halftime in Rupp Arena Saturday. They were still behind by a point more than six minutes into the second half.

Las Vegas had the Wildcats marked down as a 10 1/2-point favorite. What was the problem?

Kentucky could not make shots, ringing up a shooting percentage of less than 41 percent in the first half. Better win with defend, then, right?

Kentucky needed work on that end of the floor. The Gators made better than 48 percent of their first-half shots — and the Wildcats only turned Mike White’s team over four times.

This is not a vintage Florida team. It’s neither as talented nor as tough as any of the four Gators’ squads that Billy Donovan coached to the Final Four.

According to Joe Lunardi of ESPN, the Gators came to Lexington with a seven-team cushion to make the NCAA Tournament field as an at-large team.

Beat Kentucky and the Gators could stop refreshing Lunardi’s bracket projections every 10 minutes. Lost to the Wildcats and Florida could pack the SEC Tournament in Nashville next week with work to do.

The Wildcats will arrive in Nashville as the favorite for the fourth No. 1 seed. But they’ll have to play better than they played against Florida to stay on the top line.

"We've got to get some 40-minute or 35-minute games," Calipari said. "We haven't had that in the last couple of weeks."

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