Still dealing with a stiff shoulder that forced him to miss Saturday's game against Georgia, Auburn guard Bryce Brown didn't think he would be ready to go Wednesday night against Kentucky.
The Wildcats sure wish Brown had been right.
Keeping Auburn on its way toward the SEC's regular-season title, Brown scored 18 points and hit four 3-pointers to lead a 76-66 victory.
"I talked to coach [Wednesday] morning, and I told him I probably wasn't going to go because it was really stiff," Brown said. "Around shoot-around [before the game], it felt pretty good. From there, I just decided I was going to play."
The win kept Auburn two games ahead of Tennessee with five remaining and sent Kentucky to its fourth straight loss — a first under coach John Calipari. The Wildcats' last five-game losing streak came during Rick Pitino's first year in the 1989-90 season.
Asked afterward if he was concerned about making the NCAA Tournament, Calipari said: "I got one thought: Let's just try to win the next game. Just win a game. I really believe if we win a game, we'll get going."
Making the NCAA Tournament is no worry for Auburn, which looks especially tough when Brown and guard Jared Harper are playing well at the same time. Harper scored 18 points and added seven assists Wednesday — his eighth straight game with at least six assists.
"He can get his teammates involved. He can score the ball. I feel like he does everything a point guard is supposed to do," Brown said. "I just want him to continue to get better doing what he's been doing for us."
Auburn has won just two SEC regular season titles: 1960 and 1999. A third could be coming as soon as next week before the Tigers take aim at a postseason run.
Frustration boils over
South Carolina is enduring its longest losing streak in four seasons, and coach Frank Martin's wallet just got a little lighter.
Martin was fined $25,000 and publicly reprimanded by the SEC this week after comments made about official Lee Cassell.
Cassell issued Martin a technical foul Saturday during the first half of South Carolina's 65-41 home loss to Florida. That seemed to ignite Martin's frustration, and after the game he questioned why Cassell is still allowed to work SEC games.
“Eleven years as head coach, I think today was my sixth technical foul in 11 years,” Martin said. “I got a problem when our league office puts a guy on our game that got his break in the SEC, and he turned his back on the SEC to go officiate the other leagues. Why are we hiring that official to officiate SEC games? That’s a problem."
A bigger problem for Martin — and possibly what has him especially grumpy — is a season that has gone south quickly. South Carolina's 41 points against Florida were the fewest scored by an SEC team in a conference game this season. The Gamecocks' 15 field goals were tied for the second-fewest.
A year after advancing to the Final Four, South Carolina will need to win the SEC postseason tournament to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament completely.
Strange good luck charm
Two of Alabama forward Donta Hall's best games of the season have coincided with one of the weirder habits college basketball has seen.
During wins over Tennessee and LSU, Hall played while chewing on what appeared to be a straw. Yes, a straw.
"I don't know why, but I did it in the Tennessee game also, so I just kept the train going," Hall told reporters after the LSU game Tuesday.
Weird, but it is working. Hall had 20 points and eight rebounds against the Tigers, three days after he totaled 17 points and 11 rebounds against the Volunteers.
Hall is now averaging 11.4 points and 7.2 rebounds for the Crimson Tide, which has won three of its last four games.
Texas A&M loses guard
Finally playing well after a brutal start to SEC play, Texas A&M will be without guard Duane Wilson for the rest of the season.
Wilson posted an emotional message on Instagram earlier this week that included: "I'm devastated I can't be on the floor with my brothers and that my best year of my college career is cut short."
Wilson did not go into specifics about his injury, but he missed time earlier this season with right knee problems, and he appeared to aggravate the injury on Saturday against Kentucky.
The Marquette grad transfer averaged 9.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 24 minutes per game.
Alabama coach Avery Johnson wore a red and blue tie during his team's win over LSU to recognize Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy.
Kennedy announced his resignation Monday, effective at the end of the 2018 season. The winningest coach in program history, Kennedy has led the Rebels to a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances and totaled nine seasons of at least 20 victories during his 12 years with the program.
"This is a tough, tough job, and Andy did it in a first-class way with a lot of character," Johnson said.
Phillip Heilman: (904) 359-4063