GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) - Florida forward Alex Tyus answered
questions Thursday while leaning against a wall, a fitting position
given his team's postseason outlook.
"We have to win every game basically," Tyus said. "It's
exciting just thinking that our NCAA tournament starts now."
Same goes for Kentucky. And when the Gators (21-9, 8-7
Southeastern Conference) and Wildcats (19-11, 8-7) meet in the
regular-season finale Saturday, a matchup that looked last week
like it might serve as a play-in game for the NCAA tournament will
be more like an elimination game.
The loser almost certainly will have to win the SEC tournament
next week in Tampa to make the NCAA field. The winner, meanwhile,
will revive its chances of earning a spot in the 65-team bracket
but still might need to win a few games in the conference
tournament to get in.
It's a precarious spot for two of the league's elite programs,
and one few could have seen coming back in late January.
The Wildcats started 5-0 in conference play, allowing some
Kentucky faithful to forget about that woeful loss to Virginia
Military Institute in the season opener.
But then center Patrick Patterson missed a few games because of
an ankle injury, opponents started focusing on star shooting guard
Jodie Meeks and the team's defense dipped considerably in the last
six weeks. The Wildcats have allowed 73.2 points in their last 10
contests and are 3-7 in those games.
Losers of three straight, capped by a stunning loss to Georgia
in Lexington, Kentucky might be able to get things turned around in
Gainesville. If not, the Wildcats could be left out of the NCAA
tournament for the first time since 1991.
"We are trying to play well against a team that we are in a
very similar situation with," Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie said
Friday. "It will mean a lot to both teams. We will try to play as
hard as we can, and we both need to get back on track and win."
If the Gators don't get back on track, they will be in the NIT
for the second time in as many years. They started 5-1 in the SEC
but then faded down the stretch, losing three in a row and six of
their last nine.
Florida has endured some of the same problems that caused it to
drop eight of 11 games late last season and miss the NCAA
tournament for the first time since 1998. The Gators, who don't
have the athleticism to play man-to-man defense, have seen their
zone burned by 3-pointers and broken down by dribble penetration.
They have allowed an average of 75.8 points in the last nine
"I knew coming into the stretch, playing against some of these
better teams, that some of these things would come out and we'd
have to be able to try to address these things," coach Billy
Donovan said. "That's something we're trying to figure out."
Making matters worse, poor team chemistry and lack of
accountability have started to become the buzzwords for the team's
Guards Nick Calathes and Erving Walker exchanged words in a
close game at LSU, and Calathes was benched for the final 2:40 at
Mississippi State on Wednesday night after taking an ill-advised
3-pointer early in the shot clock.
"Sometimes when you're perceived as being the best player on
the team, you feel this enormous responsibility like, "I've got to
go do it," Donovan said. "He's not that type of player that he
can athletically go do it, but he is smart enough and he's got a
good enough ability to make plays that his focus has to be, 'How do
I incorporate and get everybody involved?'
"I just felt like in that situation it may have been better for
our team and for him to watch and see what was going on. Sometimes
you can talk about it and show it on film, and sometimes they've
got to sit and watch it."
Both teams could be watching the NCAA tournament, a position
neither expected to be in this season.
"I think right now there's just a bigger sense of urgency,"
Tyus said. "We just need to really have a sense of urgency or
we're going to be right back where we finished last year."