LSU-Kentucky Preview

The Associated Press

Kentucky is a buzzer-beater away from being undefeated after doing nearly everything perfect during the regular season.

Coach John Calipari, though, is still looking for ways the top-ranked Wildcats can be better as they head into Friday's SEC tournament quarterfinal game against LSU at New Orleans.

Re-loading a Final Four squad with five talented freshmen - headlined by SEC overall, freshman and defensive player of the year Anthony Davis - Calipari's lone blemish this season was a 73-72 loss Dec. 10 at Indiana. Christian Watford's 3-pointer as time expired put the "1" in Kentucky's 30-1 record.

The Wildcats have since reeled off 22 consecutive wins and ran the table in the SEC with a 16-0 mark to join the 1996 and 2003 Kentucky teams as the only ones to accomplish the feat since Alabama in 1956. They are in line for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and would almost certainly be the overall No. 1 seed in the field of 68 if they are able to win a third straight SEC tournament.

Yet Calipari refuses to take this week for granted despite winning the SEC by six games since three of Kentucky's closest conference victories came outside Rupp Arena.

"Think about it, we had to go to Vandy. No one wins at Vandy. We had to go to Florida. They only lost one game there. We had to go to Tennessee and eke out a game. You're talking about Mississippi State and they're up 13 at the half," said Calipari, picked as SEC coach of the year by his colleagues. "We didn't walk through the league. If Mississippi State plays like they did against us they're a Sweet 16 team. Just go play that way. This league is solid top to bottom."

Still, it's hard not to like Kentucky's chances against this field. The Wildcats finished the regular season with a 74-59 win at then-No. 16 Florida on Sunday as Davis - a sure-fire NBA lottery pick - had 22 points, 12 rebounds and six blocked shots.

"He's really playing well and I'm anxious to see how he finishes," Calipari said of Davis, who has averaged 19.7 points on 79.3 percent shooting over his last three games while totaling 31 rebounds and 13 blocks.

"He's just getting better and better and better."

Davis had 16 points, 10 boards and three blocks as Kentucky rolled 74-50 at LSU on Jan. 28. Darius Miller had 13 points off the bench in that win and is expecting his fellow reserves to continue making substantial contributions.

"Hopefully our bench can step up big, give these guys a break when they need it. It's going to be a long run, a long tournament - both of these two tournaments," Miller said. "Hopefully we do our part just as well as they do."

LSU (18-13), the No. 8 seed, advanced to the quarterfinals with a 70-54 victory over Arkansas in the first round Thursday. Johnny O'Bryant scored 12 of his 18 points in the second half for the Tigers, who have not been to the conference semifinals since 2009.

Kentucky has won the last three games between the teams by an average of 29.3 points. The winner of this matchup will face the winner of the game between No. 22 Florida and Alabama in Saturday's semifinals.