Tennessee (12-13, 5-7 SEC) vs. Kentucky (19-6, 9-3 SEC)
Thursday, Feb. 2, 7:00 p.m. ET
Rupp Arena (23,500) • Lexington, Ky.
Probable Kentucky Starters
G-Tyler Ulis, 5-9, 160, SO (16.7 ppg, 6.7 apg)
G-Isaiah Briscoe, 6-3, 202, FR (9.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg)
F-Jamal Murray, 6-4, 207, FR (18.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg)
F-Marcus Lee, 6-9, 224, JR, (6.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg)
F-Derek Willis, 6-9, 220, JR, (7.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg)
Probable Tennessee Starters
G-Kevin Punter, 6-4, 180, SR (23.0 ppg, 3.5 apg)
G-Devon Baulkman 6-4, 200, SR (9.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg)
G-Robert Hubbs III, 6-4, 207, JR (11.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg)
G/F-Armani Moore, 6-4, 217, SR (11.7, 8.0 rpg)
F-Kyle Alexander, 6-9, 215, FR (1.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg)
Setting the Table
The dynamics of this matchup are interesting. On one hand, Tennessee should feel a lot of confidence against Kentucky after storming back from 21 points down on Feb. 2 to beat the Wildcats.
On the other hand, though, it’s tough for Tennessee to have much confidence at all after putting together a dismal body of work on the road this year. The Vols have been among the worst road teams in the nation – winning just one game away from Thompson-Boling Arena all season, and coming off an 11-point loss to SEC cellar dweller Missouri last weekend.
Kentucky, meanwhile, has been lethal at home this season with just one loss. The Wildcats are playing some of their best basketball of the season as well, coming into this contest with three straight SEC wins by an average of 26.7 points. That loss in Knoxville seemed to light a fire under the Wildcats, and recent history says it will be tough for the Vols to put it out in Lexington.
“I do think that they’ve continued to mesh really well. The roles are even more defined now than when we played them, because I thought that they were coming into that. It’s impressive when you think about it.”
– Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes discussing how Kentucky has played since that Tennessee los
3 keys for the Vols
1. Hit 40% from 3-point range: I had this key for the first matchup against Kentucky, and I think it still applies for this one. The Vols were able to accomplish this on Feb. 2 – hitting 41.1% from behind the arc in that home win against the Wildcats. Tennessee has attempted at least 23 3-pointers in every SEC road games this year, but the Vols are only hitting 23.2% of them on the road, helping contribute to their 1-5 record in SEC road play. Tennessee simply must remedy that at Rupp to have a chance.
2. Be aggressive again: Tennessee got to the free throw line 34 times (and hit 30 of them) in its win over the Wildcats earlier this month. In the process, the Vols fouled Kentucky star point guard Tyler Ulis and forward Alex Poythress out of the game. Three other Kentucky players had at least three fouls in that contest. Yes, the Vols got swatted a few times, and Kentucky does have a size edge, but that aggression put Kentucky on its heels, giving Tennessee a chance to get some easy buckets, and opening up more outside opportunities in the process.
3. Contain Ulis: Tyler Ulis is making a charge for SEC and national honors with his performances over the past few games. He’s averaged 19.7 points and 10.3 assists during UK’s dominant three-game stretch leading into this one. He’s set the tempo, hit shots and set teammates up for good looks as well. Tennessee limited him in Knoxville, and will need to do so again in Lexington to hang with the Wildcats.
Daniel: Kentucky 82-62
Nathanael: Kentucky 88-77