Lexington, KY (SportsNetwork.com) - Long-time rivals sporting identical conference records meet on Saturday afternoon, as the Tennessee Volunteers come calling on the 13th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats in a pivotal early SEC showdown.
After beginning the season at 6-4, Tennessee has taken off by going 5-1 since. The Volunteers recent knocked off Auburn on Wednesday night, which was a nice way to rebound from its 57-56 setback versus Texas A&M four days prior. Both games took place at home, but now it's time to hit the road where the team has gone just 1-2 to this point.
Kentucky was the preseason No. 1 team in the land, but an early loss to Michigan State, coupled with setbacks to Baylor and North Carolina forced the team out of the national rankings. Wins in three straight got the Wildcats back into the Top-25, but an 87-85 overtime loss at Arkansas earlier this week will cause them to tumble once more. UK is 10-0 at home this season, and the team has won 19 consecutive home games. The 'Cats are an astounding 78-2 inside Rupp Arena under head coach John Calipari.
As it does against most teams, Kentucky owns a sizable 149-67 lead in the all- time series with Tennessee. But it was the Vols who were victorious in the most recent meeting, posting their largest win ever against Kentucky with an 88-58 rout of the defending national champs in Knoxville on Feb. 16, 2013.
Tennessee's favorable record can be directly attributed to its play at the defensive end of the court, as foes are averaging just 61.9 ppg in hitting 41.4 percent of their field goal attempts, although that does include a 35.9 percent showing from 3-point range, As for the Volunteers' offensive attack, it generates 74.9 ppg behind overall shooting efforts of .457 overall and .362 from beyond the arc, all while boasting three double-digit scorers, and two more who are close to joining them. Jordan McRae is one of the top performers in the SEC, netting 18.4 ppg thanks to a .460 field goal percentage and a 78 percent performance at the free-throw line. Jarnell Stokes (13.4 ppg, 9.6 rpg) and Jeronne Maymon (10.8 ppg, 8.4 rpg) are both close to averaging a double- double, helping the team post a +9.1 rebounding differential.
In the 11-point win over Auburn, Stokes logged the 26th double-double of his career with 14 points and as many rebounds, but it was McRae who was high man once again for the Vols as he tallied 21 points to pace all five starters in double figures. Tennessee shot an impressive 51 percent from the field, and used a 23-9 edge in points from the foul line, along with a massive 42-28 rebounding margin to earn its second conference win of the season. Josh Richardson had a solid shooting night, coverting 7-of-11 field goal attempts to finish with 15 points.
Putting points on the scoreboard has been relatively easy for the Wildcats this season, as their young lineup continues to shoot well (.476 FG percentage), crash the boards with ferocity (+13.0 rebounding margin), and play solid defense (67.1 ppg, .389 FG percentage). Julius Randle is one of the new class of extremely talented freshmen this season, and he has not disappointed in averaging 16.9 points and 11.1 rebounds per game, while also shooting a stellar 53.4 percent from the field and 71.0 percent from the charity stripe. James Young (14.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg), Aaron Harrison (14.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg) and Andrew Harrison (10.6 ppg, 3.5 apg) round out the unit's double-digit scorers, but even veteran Willie Cauley-Stein has made his presence felt by logging 57 blocks while averaging 8.9 points and 7.6 caroms per contest.
Young scored 23 points and Randle finished with 20 and 14 rebounds, but those efforts went for naught as Kentucky dropped a heartbreaker in overtime at Arkansas the last time out. Aaron Harrison added 16 points and Alex Poythress chipped in with 12 more, but the Wildcats committed 17 turnovers and lost the game despite registering a huge 50-32 edge on the glass while holding the Razorbacks to .377 field goal efficiency, which included a 6-of-21 showing from long range.