No. 5 Kentucky won its eighth game of the last nine late Saturday, 66-55, at Alabama in front of a raucous 12,477 at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa.
The only loss of that stretch was at then-No. 2 Auburn, 80-71, on Jan. 22. Kentucky (19-4, 8-2) won its fourth straight, which includes an 80-62 win at No. 5 Kansas in front of 16,300 a week ago Saturday.
And the Wildcats beat the Tide with no points from guard Sahvir Wheeler, who had averaged 16 points in four of his previous five SEC games. Wheeler missed four shots, but helped significantly with seven assists.
Kentucky still had five players in double figures in a balanced boxscore with point guard TyTy Washington Jr. scoring 15, Kellan Grady 10, Oscar Tshiebwe 10 with 15 rebounds, Keion Brooks Jr. with 10 and five rebounds and Daimion Collins with 10 and six rebounds off the bench.
“Ever since that Kansas game, we’ve been locked in,” Washington said.
“All of a sudden, you’ve got a lot of guys who can go and score and play defense,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “That’s what I like.”
Kentucky plays at South Carolina (13-9, 4-6 SEC) at 7 p.m. eastern Tuesday on ESPN before hosting Florida Saturday (4 p.m., ESPN).
The next marquee contest will be at No. 22 Tennessee (16-6, 7-3) on Feb. 15 (9 p.m., ESPN). The Vols won their fifth straight SEC game Saturday, 81-57, over South Carolina.
But it’s not February that Calipari is thinking about.
“My focus is on March,” he said. “It’s always been March. How are you able to play six games (in the NCAA Tournament)? How can you get your team consistent enough that you don’t have any drop-off? It’s not just playing a game.”
The Wildcats’ quality play is clearly trending.
“That’s what my mindset is all the time,” said Calipari, who took the Wildcats to four Final Fours from 2011 through 2015 with a national title in 2012 and runner-up finish in 2014 with Elite Eight finishes in 2017 and ’19.
“But it’s not what I believe. It’s what they believe,” Calipari said.
Alabama (14-9, 4-6) lost its second straight after upsetting No. 4 Baylor on Jan. 29, but both losses were to top five teams – No. 1 Auburn and No. 5 Kentucky.
No. 25 LSU (16-7, 4-6) will fall out of the top 25 as it lost at third tier Vanderbilt (12-10, 4-6), 75-66, on Saturday night after trailing 43-25 at the half. It was the Tigers’ third straight loss.
“We’ve got the right stuff to us. We’re unbreakable,” LSU coach Will Wade said after losing at Alabama on Jan. 19 for his second straight setback.
Since the Alabama loss, LSU has continued to break bad as it has lost four of five since that comment. The Tigers were 15-1 and 3-1 on Jan. 12 after winning at Florida, but is 1-6 since. Their defense is good, but they continue to struggle to score, which Wade’s previous teams had little problem doing.
“I wish I knew the answer,” said Wade, who apparently no longer believes it is officiating.
LSU was without starting point guard Xavier Pinson, who continues to be bothered by a knee injury.
In other games Saturday, No. 1 Auburn struggled at last place Georgia before winning 74-72, Missouri won 70-66 at Texas A&M, which lost its sixth straight game after a 15-2, 4-0 start, Florida beat Ole Miss, 62-57, in overtime, and Arkansas beat Mississippi State, 63-55.
Auburn’s game at Arkansas Tuesday night highlights this week’s schedule. The Razorbacks have won eight straight. Auburn has won 19 in a row.
On the other end of the spectrum Tuesday night, LSU and Texas A&M will compare two losing streaks that total 0-9.
TUESDAY’S GAMES (All times eastern)
No. 1 Auburn (22-1, 10-0) at Arkansas (18-5, 7-3), 7 p.m., ESPN2.
No. 5 Kentucky (19-4, 8-2) at South Carolina (13-9, 4-6), 7 p.m., ESPN.
No. 25 LSU (16-7, 4-6) at Texas A&M (15-8, 4-6), 7 p.m., SEC Network.
Georgia (6-17, 1-9) at Florida (15-8, 5-5), 6:30 p.m., SEC Network.
Alabama (14-9, 4-6) at Ole Miss (12-11, 3-7), 8:30 p.m., SEC Network.
No. 22 Tennessee (16-6, 7-3) at Mississippi State (14-8, 5-4), 9 p.m., ESPN2.