It might have taken 17 games, but "Billyball" might finally be in place.
First-year coach Billy Gillispie's trademark defense was clearly evident in Kentucky's stunning upset of No. 3 Tennessee earlier this week, a win that erased a lot of griping in the Bluegrass State. Although the Wildcats only improved to 8-9, 2-2 SEC, the presence shown on the court was a throwback to the defense Gillispie mastered at Texas A&M, the job that landed him on the Wildcats' radar.
The Volunteers (16-2, 3-1) built a comfortable 10-point cushion in the second half, but frittered it away. Kentucky's Joe Crawford hit two straight 3-pointers to tie the game and the Wildcats took over.
Tennessee only hit two field goals in the final 10 minutes. Sharpshooter Chris Lofton, who was suffering through a low percentage year, scored 22 points, including five 3-pointers, but nobody else helped him out.
Kentucky seems to be saving its best performances for when the clouds are at their darkest. Gillispie was hired after Tubby Smith -- also known as "Ten-loss Tubby" to the Wildcats' fans -- had enough and left for Minnesota. Although Gillispie is only one loss away from the 10-loss mark that hounded Smith, the fans aren't complaining too much.
The reasons why are wins like the one over the Vols. Kentucky, which hosts South Carolina (9-9, 1-3) today, also ended Vanderbilt's unbeaten streak in its SEC opener.
• MORE RUMBLINGS: Stan Heath was canned at Arkansas after it was deemed his restoration project was taking too long. After a plodding loss to Georgia last week, new coach John Pelphrey might be eyeing the unrest as well.
Arkansas (13-5, 2-2) won't be firing Pelphrey anytime soon -- he's in his first year and after the rigmarole it took to get him to Fayetteville, the administration probably doesn't want to even talk about it. But with every starter back and featuring last season's SEC Freshman of the Year (Patrick Beverley) and SEC Defensive Player of the Year (Steven Hill), most were expecting a little better.
The Hogs began 8-1 but then lost two straight, the last to Appalachian State. They began the SEC season 2-0, then lost to the Bulldogs and USC.
Arkansas travels to LSU (7-11, 0-4) today after a week off. On paper, an average performance should be sufficient to whip the woeful Tigers.
But on the court, the Hogs must find an answer for their demons -- low scoring and the SEC's worst percentage from the 3-point arc.
• RIVALRY DAY: The SEC West features the first installments of two in-state rivalries today.
Auburn (12-5, 2-2) travels to Alabama (11-8, 0-4) and No. 17 Ole Miss (15-2, 2-2) plays at Mississippi State (13-5, 4-0). The Rebels-Bulldogs tilt will have some impact on the SEC West standings, but the heat from the Tigers-Crimson Tide clash is always entertaining.
Ole Miss shot to a hot start but has split its four SEC games, while the Bulldogs have handily won all of their conference matches. A Rebels win would equal Ole Miss' best 18-game start in school history and offer further validation of coach Andy Kennedy's abilities -- he's been there two years, been picked to finish last each time, and already has one SEC West co-championship in the trophy case.
But Mississippi State leads the SEC in total defense, which has propelled it to an eight-game winning streak. It should be a battle on the glass, with MSU on top of the league in defensive boards and Ole Miss leading in offensive rebounding.
In Alabama, meanwhile, the Tide are desperately seeking a win. A loss today gives Alabama an 0-5 SEC start for the first time since 1988 and its third straight drop to Auburn.
• FROM THE BASELINE: Florida beat Kentucky for the seventh straight time last week, becoming the first SEC team to accomplish the feat and only the second team in the country (Notre Dame) to ever do it. ... Ole Miss and Mississippi State will play for the 235th time today, the most-played rivalry in the conference. The two teams split the SEC West title last year. ... Auburn sophomore Lucas Hargrove, a native of Pontiac, has averaged 10.4 points over his last five games. He sat out four games with a broken hand. ... USC's Devan Downey ranks second in the SEC in scoring with 19.9 points per game, just behind Vanderbilt's Shan Foster (20.1). Downey's scored 28 and 24 in his last two games.