ATLANTA (AP) - Bobby Portis kept Kentucky from winning everything in the Southeastern Conference this season.
The Arkansas sophomore was selected as SEC player of the year by The Associated Press on Monday, about the only thing the top-ranked Wildcats were denied in their perfect season.
Not surprisingly, Kentucky took the other two awards.
John Calipari was voted coach of the year, while Karl-Anthony Towns was picked as the top freshman.
“I thought that the Kentucky players would kind of dominate the awards because of their record,” said Portis, who also took the coaches’ player of the year award last week.
Portis was the only unanimous choice to the AP’s All-SEC first team. The 6-foot-11 forward ranks second in the league in scoring (17.5 points per game) and fourth in rebounding (8.6).
“I think I had a great year,” he said. “I tried to stay consistent throughout the whole season and tried to be that man for my team and just tried to help my team to more wins this season.”
Speaking of great years, Calipari guided Kentucky (34-0) to a perfect regular season and an easy romp through the SEC Tournament. Now, the Wildcats are headed to NCAAs as an overwhelming favorite to claim the school’s ninth national championship and complete the first unbeaten men’s season since Indiana in 1976.
The last three undefeated teams entering the tournament were all beaten, including Wichita State - by Kentucky, no less - a year ago. The Wildcats went on to reach the national championship game, where they lost to Connecticut.
This team wants to win one more game. Several top players returned for another college season and were joined by Calipari’s usual stellar recruiting class, creating a juggernaut that has a chance to go down as one of the greatest teams in NCAA history.
“Those aren’t the nets we’re really looking to cut down,” junior center Willie Cauley-Stein said after Sunday’s 78-63 victory over Arkansas in the SEC Tournament final. “It was just a milestone. It’s part of the process for us winning and everything, but we’re looking for something bigger. We’re looking to cut down a couple more nets in the (NCAA) tournament. “
Towns and Cauley-Stein joined Portis on the first team, along with Mississippi junior guard Stefan Moody, Tennessee senior guard Josh Richardson, and a pair of sophomore forwards from LSU, Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey.
Mickey leads the SEC in rebounding (9.8), while Martin is the conference third-leading scorer (16.9) and rebounder (9.2).
Towns averaged 9.7 points and led the Wildcats in rebounding (6.7), his numbers held down by Kentucky’s staggering depth. The Wildcats have nine players who averaged more than 11 minutes per game.
Calipari won the SEC coaching award for the third time in six seasons with the Wildcats. While many thinks his job ends after he finishes recruiting, that’s not how Auburn coach Bruce Pearl sees it.
“John is running great stuff,” Pearl said after getting blown out by the Wildcats in the SEC semifinals. “The stuff they run is as good as there is in college basketball. It’s hard to guard. So even if he didn’t have very good players, what he’s running is really good. Then when you run it with great players, it’s hard to beat.”
Arkansas (26-8) is heading to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008 after finishing second to Kentucky during the regular season. The Razorbacks are seeded fifth and will take on Wofford in their opening game.
Portis has played a big role in that success.
“The thing I love about Bobby is team goals are so important to him,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “We’ve seen a guy that from day one when he stepped on this campus has really just continued to grow as a player, grow as person and get better, and that has really impacted our basketball team.”
Auburn senior guard KT Harrell, who leads the SEC in scoring at 18.5 points a game, led the AP’s second team. The other choices were Kentucky sophomore guard Aaron Harrison, Texas A&M junior guard Danuel House, Vanderbilt sophomore center Damian Jones, and Arkansas junior guard Michael Qualls.
The 67th annual AP All-SEC team was selected by a 13-member regional media panel.
AP Sports Writer Kurt Voigt in Fayetteville, Arkansas contributed to this report.
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