SEC basketball: Tony Barbee says Auburn’s not far off

Auburn coach Tony Barbee throws his hands up during the second half against Florida in an NCAA college basketball game in Auburn, Ala., Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Jay Sailors)
Auburn coach Tony Barbee throws his hands up during the second half against Florida in an NCAA college basketball game in Auburn, Ala., Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Jay Sailors)

Tony Barbee sounds patient for a coach whose program hasn’t won a conference game in 50 weeks.

Or maybe he just masks frustration well.

On Saturday, Auburn (8-7, 0-4) let No. 6 Florida slip out of the Plains with a 68-61 victory, extending the Tigers’ Southeastern Conference losing streak to 14 games.

“It’s coming,” Barbee said. “We’ve just go to stay the course.”

Worse, three of those games saw Auburn within a lone possession in the final three minutes but unable to make necessary plays down the stretch.

In a 65-62 loss at Ole Miss, Chris Denson, the SEC’s scoring leader at 19.5 points per game, clanked a potentially game-tying 3-pointer.

Against Missouri, Denson and KT Harrell had contested looks at the rim that didn’t go in the final two minutes, and Missouri came up with a game-ending steal in the final 2.9 seconds.

Finally, the Tigers were within a point of Florida after Tahj Shamsid-Deen hit a jumper with 1:59 to play. Only Auburn went scoreless over the final minutes and Florida closed on a 6-0 spurt for a 68-61 victory.

“We’ve played well at home and on the road,” Barbee said. “We just haven’t had that moment where we’ve broken through.”

Guard play hasn’t been an issue, though.

Aside from Denson, Harrell ranks third in scoring (18.9 ppg), while Deen has been an able distributor at 3.3 assists per game and a 2.5 assist-to-turnover ratio.

And Barbee thinks there’s more mettle and moxie with this group than his squad last season.

“The mindset has been great,” Barbee said. “This is a different group (than last year). We’ve got great chemistry. The guys like playing together. We’re playing hard. We’re playing tough.”

Vols win battle on boards

Kentucky figured to tussle with Tennessee on the boards Saturday.

The No. 14 Wildcats (13-4, 4-1), which entered No. 6 nationally in rebounding, didn’t exactly expect to get dominated, though.

Kentucky was outrebounded 39-24 and gave up a 38-26 edge in the paint, taking a bit of shine off a 74-66 victory.

Volunteers forward Jarnell Stokes scored 20 points and had 15 rebounds, while Jeronne Maymon had 12 points and five rebounds.

“They had their way with us,” Kentucky assistant coach John Robic said. “They were space-eaters inside, and were really, really physical.”

What’s slightly alarming is the figurative disappearance of Willie Cauley-Stein. The sophomore forward averaged just 1.0 point and 4.5 rebounds against Tennessee and Arkansas. “Once they made contact, he didn’t fight back,” Robic said. “He had a big advantage over them. He just has to get down and be physical and make the first blow with contact.”

Razorbacks get road test

Now Arkansas (12-5, 1-3) gets to deal with the Volunteers (11-6, 2-2) in a vital road test Wednesday.

And the Razorbacks didn’t do much Saturday in a road loss at Georgia to stir confidence, getting routed 56-34 on the backboards during a 66-61 overtime loss.

Georgia grabbed 24 offensive rebounds, an irksome stat considering Arkansas held the Bulldogs to just 31 percent shooting and forced 19 turnovers.

“That’s going to be the challenge with Tennessee,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “The finishing part of defense is rebounding the basketball.”

Expect to see more of freshman Moses Kingsley paired up with fellow newcomer Bobby Portis along the front line to help pare that rebounding margin back, Anderson said.

“(Kingsley has) given us that physical presence from a shot-blocking standpoint, and just being strong terms of going and getting the basketball,” Anderson said. “He just plays with that nastiness.”