Knoxville, TN (Sports Network) - The oldest rivalry in the SEC adds another
chapter on Saturday afternoon, as the 25th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats come
calling on the Tennessee Volunteers.
As the defending national champions, Kentucky came into the 2012-13 season
with extremely high expectations, even though it was breaking in a slew of new
players. The Wildcats beat up on the teams they were supposed to early on, but
a loss to Duke in game two, followed by setbacks against Notre Dame, Baylor
and Louisville showed the young team coach John Calipari had assembled, while
brimming with talent, was having trouble coming together against the better
teams on the schedule. Spending the better part of the last couple of months
on the outside of the national rankings, UK has managed to log an 8-3 record
in SEC action (17-7 overall), earning it a tie with Alabama for second place,
two games off the pace set by league-leading Florida.
As it happens, the 'Cats paid a visit to the Gators earlier this week, and
they had their five-game win streak both in the series and overall this season
come to end with a 69-52 loss.
Tennessee comes into this fray three games over .500 overall (13-10), but the
team has performed below that in conference action (5-6). Wins in five of
their last eight bouts however, have the Vols feeling better about themselves
as they stare down the final month of the regular season. UT won a pair of
road games in the last week, taking down South Carolina (66-61) on Sunday, and
Vanderbilt (58-46) on Wednesday.
The Volunteers have won four straight home games against the defending
national champs (UConn twice, Florida twice), and seven of their last 10 such
matchups overall. Additionally, they have more victories over the Wildcats
than any other team in the country.
Still, UK leads the all-time series by a substantial 149-66 margin, and the
'Cats have won the last six meetings, including a 75-65 decision in Lexington
back on Jan. 15.
Kentucky appeared overmatched from the outset in its recent clash with
Florida, trailing by 13 points at the break on the way to a 17-point setback.
The Wildcats lost more than the game and some confidence, as the nation's top
shot blocker, rookie phenom Nerlens Noel (10.5 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 106 blocks)
suffered a season-ending knee injury. With regard to UK's top performers in
the loss to the Gators, only one starter reached double digits in the scoring
column, as Julius Mays nailed a pair of 3-pointers to wind up with 10 points,
and Willie Cauley-Stein came off the bench to tally 10 points as well. Cauley-
Stein will assume Noel's starting spot, at last for the time being, and the
team as a whole is going to need to step it up big time if it has any shot at
challenging for the SEC crown. Archie Goodwin (13.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.1 apg),
Alex Poythress (12.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and Kyle Wiltjer (11.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg) are
the likely candidates to do so, but both Ryan Harrow (9.9 ppg, 3.2 apg) and
Mays (9.3 ppg, 3.0 apg) are going to be asked to assume bigger roles as well.
Kentucky is still a dangerous team, as it shoots an impressive 48.6 percent
from the field, which includes a 36.1 percent showing from beyond the arc, in
netting 75.0 ppg, while at the other end yielding just 62.8 ppg behind typical
shooting efforts of .382 overall and .310 from downtown. The loss of Noel
could mean the club's +5.4 rebounding edge could take a hit.
Despite having talent on the roster, Tennessee is far from an offensive
juggernaut, the team averaging 63.7 ppg on the strength of its .429 field goal
percentage. The Vols really struggled from long range, connecting on a dismal
28.6 percent of their 3-point tries, but they are one of the league's better
rebounding teams (+5.0). Defensively, they rank last in the SEC in steals (3.9
per game), 13th in turnover margin (-2.67) and 10th in field goal percentage
defense (.414). Jordan McRae (13.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg) continues to pace the club in
scoring, ranking 13th in the conference, and he is coming off his first career
double-double after scoring 14 points and career-best 11 rebounds in UT's
recent win over Vanderbilt. Jarnell Stokes (12.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg) and Trae Golden
(10.4 ppg, 3.8 apg) round out the team's double-digit scorers, and both were
productive once again versus the Commodores, netting 17 and 12 points,
respectively. Stokes came up with 10 rebounds, helping the Vols claim a 38-28
edge on the glass. Tennessee shot 42.9 percent from the field, while Vandy
turned the trick at just 37.7 percent. Both teams had difficulty from beyond
the arc, combining to go a mere 7-of-28 on 3-pointers.
The Sports Network