Fresh of the stinging loss to the Arkansas Razorbacks a few nights ago, the Kentucky Wildcats welcome the Tennessee Volunteers to Rupp Arena for a noon tip-off later today. Tennessee isn’t what I would call a rival but there is certainly no love lost between the fans of either team, or residents of each state really. Let’s check out various keys to the game from different scribes from all around. Check this out from Ken Howlett at CoachCal.com
Win battle of the boards — Kentucky has been one of the most dominant teams in the nation when hitting the boards, something that has offset Wildcat deficiencies all season. That dominance, though, will be tested in a big way by the Volunteers. Tennessee, with Stokes and Maymon, two aggressive low post players, will battle the Cats for rebounds and second-chance scoring opportunities, as the two combine for nearly 10 offensive rebounds per game. UK ranks second in the country in rebounding margin and Tennessee ranks 10th.
Continue to guard perimeter — Tennessee has several players capable of nailing the trey with great regularity. Kentucky, though, has solidly defended the 3-pointer for most of the year, as the Cats have held their opponent’s to 30.5 percent from beyond the arc. UT’s Richardson, McRae and Barton, three dangerous outside shooters, will vie to stick a dagger into the Cats from distance. Making the Cats closing on shooters, guarding with arms up and switching with aplomb vitally important.
Half-court patience — The Cats’ half-court offensive sets have improved greatly over the last few games — perhaps due to Camp Cal — and that will need to continue against the Vols on Saturday. Martin coaches an aggressive, pressure defense, and how well UK shows patience by making the extra pass and passing out of double and triple teams will determine how efficient the Cats are offensively when taking on the Vols.
Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein vs. Stokes and Maymon — These four big fellas represent a lot of low-block beef and are who make these two teams so dominant on the glass. Which duo has the best rebounding position and is the most aggressive when attacking the boards will help determine Saturday’s winner. Both Maymon and Stokes have been the backbone behind the success of Tennessee this season, and limiting their ability to score second chance points will be key for Kentucky in its quest for victory No. 13.
THEY SAID WHAT?
Alex Poythress on having extra motivation against Tennessee after the Vols put it to UK last year in Knoxville …
“We owe them a little bit. They came and embarrassed us a little last year. It’s a new game. Trying to rebound from that loss Tuesday, trying to get a W.”
Marcus Lee on Tennessee’s size …
“We’ve definitely worked on it. We’ve had most of our big men go against Dakari (Johnson), which he’s really big. That’s kind of what we’ve been doing to adapt to being more physical and stronger with bigger guys around us.”
Kentucky’s 5-of-11 3-point shooting against Arkansas — 45.5 percent — was the first time in seven games the Cats have shot better than 33.3 percent from beyond the arc.
The Wildcats have snagged 67 offensive rebounds in the last four games for an average of 16.8 per game. In those same games, UK missed an average of 32.5 shots, which equates to a better than 50.0 percent offensive rebounding average.
Kentucky has not shot over 65.0 percent from the free-throw line since nailing 72.7 percent against Belmont five games ago.
The Wildcats’ eight blocks versus Arkansas represents the most swats UK has had since blocking 10 shots against Boise State seven games ago.
The Razorbacks’ six turnovers against Kentucky is tied with Providence for fewest turnpvers by a UK opponent this season.
Arkansas’ 37.5 percent field-goal accuracy is by far the lowest shooting percentage UK has allowed in a loss this year. Michigan State shot 47.6 percent, Baylor 47.3 percent and North Carolina connected on 48.2 percent of its shots.
Over the last four games, UK’s opposition have shot only 26.9 percent from 3-point distance.
For the season, the Cats have held opponents to an assist rate of 45.4 percent, but in the last three games the opposition have dished out 42 dimes on 74 made baskets, an assist rate of 56.8 percent.
And while many players and coaches on teams will tell you that they don’t hate one team more than another and they just take it one game at a time, Alex Poythress is not among them. Last year Kentucky got waxed by Tennessee and Poythress hasn’t forgotten. He’s ready to get this game going. As many of you know, this is pretty out of character for Alex because he doesn’t let his feeling betray is outward emotions normally so to see him fired up about a game has to be a good sign for the Cats. I can’t wait to see him and Stokes go at it occasionally.
As declarative sentences go, Kentucky sophomore Alex Poythress won the prize on Friday.
“We owe them one,” he said in packing a lot of meaning and purpose into four monosyllabic words.
Poythress meant the Tennessee Volunteers, who play UK at high noon Saturday. The last time the teams met, Tennessee enjoyed its biggest margin of victory in the series’ 216-game history.
The two starting big men evoke the nickname “Bruise Brothers.” One was once called “Wes Unseld Jr.” Conclusion: There should be little doubt about team identity.
Inside scoring and rebounding are foundational pieces to Tennessee basketball.
Tennessee’s muscle is Jarnell Stokes (once called Wes Unseld Jr. by an admiring Trent Johnson, the former LSU coach) and Jeronne Maymon, who sat out last season as he recovered from major surgery to his left knee.
UT lists each at 6-foot-8 and 260 pounds. Each is counted upon to score and, perhaps more importantly, rebound around the basket. Each provides a physical presence.
“I don’t know whose screen is worse (to run into),” said Jordan McRae, a willowy wing who leads the Vols in scoring (18.4 points per game). “Either one you try to avoid.”
The Kentucky-Tennessee game on Saturday figures to be a competition of like-minded teams. Each can shoot from the perimeter, but each depends on its “bigs” to make the critical difference.