Hoops Preview: #19 Tennessee vs. Kentucky

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The 19th-ranked Tennessee basketball team returns to action for a Saturday afternoon home bout with conference rival, Kentucky. Tipoff from Thompson-Boling Arena is slated for 1 p.m. ET on CBS.

Vols F Yves Pons / Credit: UT Athletics

Fans can catch Saturday’s game on CBS and online or on any mobile device through a paid subscription to CBS All Access, which can be found here. Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel will have the call.

Fans can also listen live on their local Vol Network affiliate to hear Bob Kesling and Bert Bertlekamp describing the action.

Last time out, Tennessee rolled past South Carolina, 93-73, on Wednesday night. The Vols were led by an electrifying 29-point performance from junior Victor Bailey Jr. Bailey converted on 9-of-16 attempts from the field and drained seven shots from 3-point range (tying the Barnes era record).

A victory on Saturday would mark the Vols seventh win over Kentucky in their last 10 tries and would give Tennessee its first home-and-home series sweep of the  Wildcats since 2018.

Up next, the Orange & White will hit the road for a Wednesday night matchup with in-state foe, Vanderbilt. Tipoff from Memorial Gym is slated for 9 p.m. ET on SEC Network.

THE SERIES
• Tennessee trails the all-time series with Kentucky, 156-75, dating to 1910.
• The Wildcats have a 53-51 edge when the series is played in Knoxville, but Tennessee has won four of five meetings at home under head coach Rick Barnes.
• Overall, the Vols have won six of their last nine games vs. Kentucky.
• Tennessee overcame a 10-point second-half deficit to defeat the Wildcats by a score of 82-71 at Rupp Arena on Feb. 6. Freshman Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer combined for 50 points in the win.

A WIN WOULD…
• Be Tennessee’s seventh victory in its last 10 games against Kentucky.
• Give the Vols their first home-and-home sweep over Kentucky since 2018.

LAYUP LINES
• Kentucky big man Olivier Sarr is one of Yves Pons’ closest friends. Both grew up in France, and they often played against one another before becoming teammates at INSEP Academy and on the French National Team.
• Tennessee’s leading rebounder, Josiah-Jordan James, missed UT’s last game with a left wrist injury.
• The Volunteers have spent the duration of the season ranked in the top 20 of the Associated Press Top-25 poll and are ranked No. 19 this week.
• Tennessee is No. 12 in the latest NCAA NET ratings, with four wins over teams in the top 45.
• The true freshman duo of Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer have accounted for 44.7 percent of Tennessee’s scoring over the last four games.
• Yves Pons is a top-10 finalist for the Julius Erving Award and one of 15 candidates for the Naismith Men’s Defensive Player of the Year.

DEFENSE WINS
• According to KenPom, the Vols rank third in the NCAA in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing only 87.7 points per 100 possessions. College teams typically average close to 70 possessions per game.
• Tennessee ranks 18th in the NCAA in scoring defense, allowing just 62.3 points per game.
• The Vols are forcing 15.9 turnovers per game while converting those turnovers into 17.6 points per game. Tennessee’s turnover margin stands at +3.9 (17th nationally).
• Tennessee has forced 15 of 20 opponents to turn the ball over on 20 percent or more of their possessions. The Vols are forcing opponents to turn it over 23.1 percent of the time this season.
• Only one time this season has a Tennessee opponent scored 80 or more points. That was Georgia, in a game the Vols won, 89-81, on Feb. 10.

ABOUT KENTUCKY
• After falling to Tennessee earlier this month, Kentucky has played in three consecutive games decided by five points or less. On Feb. 9, they lost a one-point nailbiter to Arkansas, 81-80, before taking down Auburn, 82-80, on Saturday. Most recently, the Wildcats beat Vanderbilt, 82-78, Wednesday. The Wildcats hold a record of 7-13 overall, and 6-7 in SEC play, heading into Saturday’s rematch with the Vols.
• Even through a bit of a down year, Kentucky continues to see balanced production across its entire lineup, as five players average 10 or more points per game and four players average five or more rebounds.
• Freshman Brandon Boston Jr. continues to lead UK in scoring through 20 games, averaging 12.2 points per contest. He also has been efficient on the glass, averaging 5.0 rebounds per game, which ranks fourth on the team.
• Isaiah Jackson also has been a force on the glass, leading Kentucky and ranking seventh in the SEC with 6.9 rebounds per game. Despite his average dropping slightly since the last matchup between the Vols and Cats, Jackson is still blocking shots at an SEC-leading clip of 2.7 per game, with a total of 54 rejections on the year.
• Across the board, Kentucky’s most consistent performer has been senior Olivier Sarr. Sarr ranks second on the team in scoring (10.5 ppg), rebounding (5.5 rpg) and blocked shots (1.3 bpg).
• Lexington—known as the horse capital of the world—is home to a public library that features the world’s largest ceiling clock. That clock houses a series of photos that depict the movement of a horse taken in 1872 by Eadweard Muybridge. His photos are said to be the origin of motion pictures.

LAST MEETING WITH KENTUCKY
•  A combined 50 points from five-star freshmen Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson and a momentum-shifting 26-6 second-half run propelled the No. 11 Tennessee basketball team past Kentucky, 82-71, on Feb. 6, 2021, at Rupp Arena.
•  The Tennessee triumph made Rick Barnes the only active head coach to lead his team to at least three wins at Rupp Arena as the visitor.
•  The win was also the first time UT has beaten Kentucky in back-to-back games at Rupp.
•  Tennessee seniors Yves Pons and John Fulkerson also became the first Vols ever to play in three victories at Rupp Arena.
•  Johnson finished the night with a team-leading and season-high 27 points—17 of which came in the second half—on 9-of-16 shooting while also drilling 9-of-11 from the foul line. He also logged four rebounds, one block and a steal.
•  Springer, meanwhile, erupted for 23 points on 9-of-17 shooting, scoring 14 in the second half. He also recorded five rebounds and two blocks.
•  Sophomore stat-sheet-stuffer Josiah-Jordan James came off the bench to log his first career double-double, finishing the night with 10 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks.
•  Victor Bailey Jr. had a productive night off the bench, totaling nine points and four rebounds in 24 minutes.
•  The Vols battled through foul trouble in the opening half as Kentucky drew 15 fouls and went 13-of-15 from the line to take a 42-34 lead into the break.
•  The opening 10 minutes of the second half saw both teams trade blows before Tennessee exploded for a 12-0 run to take a 60-58 lead with just more than eight minutes to play.
•  The Vols extended the run to 26-6 over a nine-minute span to build a 74-64 lead at the under-four-minute media timeout.

MEMORABLE VOL PERFORMANCES AGAINST KENTUCKY
• Kevin Punter Jr.’s 27 points were the most scored by a Vol against the Kentucky in 10 years as Tennessee defeated the Wildcats, 84-77, Feb. 2, 2016, in Knoxville. The senior point guard made three 3-pointers and was 11-of-12 at the free-throw line.
• Chris Lofton reeled off 31 points, Major Wingate scored 12 and longtime NBA point guard C.J. Watson added 10 as No. 11 Tennessee beat Kentucky 75-67 at Rupp Arena on Feb. 7, 2006.
• Beating the Wildcats was three times as nice during the 1978-79 season. UT notched program win No. 900 in Lexington on Jan. 20, 66-55, before topping UK 101-84 in Knoxville on Feb. 17. Then the Vols won the 1979 SEC Tournament with a 75-69 win over UK in Birmingham, Alabama, on March 3. Current Vol Network radio analyst Bert Bertelkamp was a junior on that Tennessee team.
• As Bernard King walked off the court at Memorial Gym after a deflating 88-82 loss on Jan. 13, 1975, a Kentucky fan flipped a lit cigarette into the Tennessee legend’s hair. Outraged, King vowed he would never lose to Kentucky again. He vigorously carried out that promise, finishing his career 5-1 against the Wildcats.

BARNES + CALIPARI = 1,450+ WINS
• Saturday’s game features the two winningest coaches (total career Division I wins) in the SEC.
• John Calipari is the league’s active leader in career wins, with 740. Rick Barnes is a close second with 724 victories to his credit.
• Among all active Division I head coaches, Calipari and Barnes rank sixth and tied for seventh, respectively, in total head coaching wins.
• Barnes and Calipari became friends while working a Pitt basketball camp in the late 1970s. The star player at that camp? Current Arizona head coach Sean Miller.

SERIES HISTORY & NOTES
• The Kentucky series is UT’s oldest and most-played among SEC opponents. The Vols and Wildcats first met on Feb. 5, 1910, and have clashed 231 times over the years.
• No program in college basketball has logged more wins over Kentucky than Tennessee (75).
• The Vols have beaten the Wildcats just six times at Rupp Arena, posting victories in 1977, 1979, 1999, 2006, 2018, 2020 and 2021.
• Tennessee has 15 all-time wins over the Wildcats at Thompson-Boling Arena, including four straight between 2016-19.
• Kentucky is one of only two SEC schools (Alabama) to lead its all-time series against the Volunteers.
• Four Tennessee All-Americans were Kentucky natives: Allan Houston, Chris Lofton, Danny Schultz and Paul “Lefty” Walther.
• Saturday is only the 13th meeting in the series for which Tennessee is ranked in the AP top 25 and Kentucky is not. Kentucky holds a 7-5 edge in such matchups.

RIVALRY RECHARGED
• Since Rick Barnes‘ arrival on Rocky Top, the border rivalry with the Kentucky Wildcats has been recharged in a major way.
• Barnes has led the Volunteers to an 8-5 overall record against the Wildcats, including at least one win in each of the last six seasons.
• Since current UK coach John Calipari has been in Lexington, Tennessee is the only program to have logged wins over Kentucky for six straight seasons.
• Tennessee also is the first program to defeat Kentucky at least once for six straight seasons since 1985; Tennessee beat the Wildcats in seven straight seasons from 1979-85 while Alabama managed an eight-year win streak over UK from 1978-85.
• Spanning the first six years of the Barnes era at UT, the Vols are 4-1 against Kentucky in Knoxville, 3-3 vs. the Cats in Lexington and 1-1 against UK in neutral-site clashes at the SEC Tournament.

CALIPARI AMONG TENNESSEE’S MOST-FACED ACTIVE COACHES
• On Saturday, John Calipari will coach his 31st career game against the Vols. Among active college coaches, he has the most career meetings against Tennessee.

Coach                                     Meetings                                    UT Record vs.

John Calipari                           30                                                13-17

Tubby Smith                            26                                                 7-19

Frank Martin                            15                                                 11-4

Mark Gottfried                          13                                                 4-9

VOLS HAVE 13 WINS AGAINST CALIPARI 2.0
• Since UK coach John Calipari returned to the college game in 2000-01, Tennessee has dealt him 13 losses. No team has more wins over Calipari-coached teams during that span.

Team                                     Wins

TENNESSEE                         13

Florida                                     8

Louisville                                 8

Auburn, Cincinnati, Kansas    5

-UT Athletics

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