David Cloninger

Cloninger: ‘Two teams that just plain don’t like each other’

Tiffany Mitchell grimaces after a hard fall against Kentucky in February. The two meet for the third time this season in Saturday’s SEC tournament semifinal.
Tiffany Mitchell grimaces after a hard fall against Kentucky in February. The two meet for the third time this season in Saturday’s SEC tournament semifinal. tglantz@thestate.com

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – You knew it’d come to this. Kentucky has been playing lights-out basketball lately and what better way to prove just how good it is – or to keep it going – than against big bad three-time SEC champ South Carolina?

Watching the Wildcats turn Florida into various pairs of shoes on Friday had me thinking I could be back in Columbia for “Saturday Night Live” after the semifinal if I drove fast enough. That’s how one-sided Kentucky was against the Gators, compared to how the Gamecocks looked against Auburn.

But then I remembered that it’s USC-Kentucky, and recent trends, stats, quotes and the price of good Kentucky bourbon can all be thrown out when it comes to this series.

These teams don’t like each other. I mentioned that the first time they played this year. Even since they became permanent opponents, there’s been a lot of stuff Kentucky has done to rub USC the wrong way and I’m sure it doesn’t help the Wildcats’ feelings toward the Gamecocks that they’ve taken over as the SEC’s powerhouse – two years after UK won the conference championship.

So that you couldn’t guard Makayla Epps in a phone booth right now or that the Gamecocks zombied their second half against Auburn Friday doesn’t matter. This one’s going to come down to who wants it more.

These games have started to remind me of the old mid-90s Pacers-Knicks games. Remember those? (Check out the 30 for 30 “Winning Time” if not.) Just the highest degree of PO’ed on each side. All of the players get up for this one.

It matters not that Khadijah Sessions missed Friday’s second half with a stomach bug. She was watching Epps warm up in the Gamecocks’ locker room after Friday’s game, murmuring, “Gonna be good game … gonna be a good game.”

It matters not that Epps by far leads the SEC in minutes played, and she’s had to miss a few minutes of each of the last two games with a sore knee. That kid is the most fabled of athletes, the “gamer” that simply loves to play. She won’t get tired.

The Gamecocks can’t afford to turn it over because it’s basically going to the scorer’s table and telling them to ring up two points under Epps’ name. They can’t afford to not finish in the paint, either, since Kentucky’s style is clearly known by the officials and isn’t going to be whistled for a lot of fouls.

Should be a helluva matchup. Hoping somebody channels Reggie and scores eight in 18 seconds.

Odds and more odds

Diet Dr. Pepper count through one day: 7

The best thing about SEC events is they have a tap. I should buy stock in the company.

The Jax

Veterans Memorial Arena is the home of the Jacksonville Sharks, an arena football team. I saw a picture of their helmets and it’s the same design (and different color scheme) as the Miami Sharks in “Any Given Sunday.”

No mention of “Steamin’” Willie, though.

A decent arena in terms of seating but the scoreboard is very high and the stats are crammed onto the displays. Not any scoreboards on the sides of the arena, either. And whether it’s the SEC or the arena – lasagna served at 10 a.m. is a sickening sight. I realize that Florida is its own country but y’all never heard of grits?

Quienes mas annoying

Being an SEC writer means I can hear three different versions of “Tiger Rag.” They’re all nearly as nettlesome as “Rocky Top.”


Texas A&M losing Friday means I don’t get to hear Gary Blair speak. That guy’s press conferences are the most entertaining I’ve ever heard.

Speaking of, Tennessee has found the cure to what ails it. The Lady Vols are looking mighty, mighty good. You wouldn’t catch me betting that they won’t make it to the championship game.

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What: SEC tournament semifinal

When: 5 p.m. Saturday

Where: Veterans Memorial Arena, Jacksonville, Fla.


Tickets: Available at the box office

Kentucky’s probable starters: G Janee Thompson 5-7 Sr. (14.5 ppg, 1.9 rpg); G Makayla Epps 5-10 Jr. (13.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg); G Maci Morris 6-0 Fr. (9.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg); F Evelyn Akhator 6-3 Jr. (12.3 ppg, 10.6 rpg); F Batouly Camara 6-2 Fr. (5.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg)

South Carolina’s probable starters: G Khadijah Sessions 5-8 Sr. (6.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg); G Tiffany Mitchell 5-9 Sr. (14.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg); G Asia Dozier 6-0 Sr. (3.2 ppg, 1.1 rpg); F A’ja Wilson 6-5 So. (16.6 ppg, 8.7 rpg); C Alaina Coates 6-4 Jr. (11.7 ppg, 10.1 rpg)

Next game: The winner advances to the SEC Championship Game at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.