By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©February 18th, 2019 @ 9:00am
Does the weekend have to be over? I don’t know about you guys, but I reveled in the win over No. 1 Tennessee all day yesterday, pretty much making up excuses to get out of the house so I could sport my Kentucky blue all over Nashville. It was one of those games I just couldn’t get enough of, eating up each moment through highlights, recaps, and social media like a starving man at a buffet.
For the first time in a while, it felt like Kentucky Basketball was BACK. The Cats didn’t just beat the number one team in the country, they ran them off the court, making even the most casual basketball fan sit up and take notice. For one blissful night, Duke and Zion Williamson were shoved to the side and Kentucky was the show again, a much-needed shot in the arm as we barrel towards March.
In fact, as Mitch Barnhart pointed out, it was a pretty incredible weekend for UK Athletics all around:
Big weekend for the #BBN, to say the least.
— Mitch Barnhart (@UKMitchBarnhart) February 18, 2019
— Mitch Barnhart (@UKMitchBarnhart) February 18, 2019
At some point today, we’ll move on and focus on Missouri but for now, I’m going to savor the win a little longer, sharing my favorite photos by Dr. Mike of a fantastic day in Lexington throughout the morning post (you can see them all on our Facebook page). Let’s go over today’s agenda.
Where will Kentucky land in the polls?
If Kentucky hadn’t lost to LSU, I think they’d crack the top three, but on the flip side, I don’t think they would pummeled Tennessee like they did had they beaten the Tigers. (Anger is a great motivator.) I predict this week’s top five will be 1) Duke, 2) Gonzaga, 3) Virginia, 4) Kentucky, 5) Tennessee. I have a sinking feeling the AP voters will still keep the Vols ahead of the Cats despite Saturday’s win, but if so, even more reason to beat them in Knoxville, right?
More important than the AP and Coaches Polls are the NET rankings, which will also be updated today. The Cats are currently No. 6 behind Gonzaga, Duke, Virginia, Tennessee, and Houston. I’ll bring you the new rankings when they drop and also update Kentucky’s team sheet. Less than a month until Selection Sunday! Speaking of, Seth Davis currently has Kentucky as a No. 1 seed:
This is how my 1 and 2 line looks right now. I see a lot of people still have Kentucky as a 2. They are all wrong. https://t.co/X2Bw9n4v7M
— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) February 17, 2019
I’m sure Joe Lunardi and the Bracketheads will release new projections today too, so stay tuned.
Who will win SEC Player/Freshman of the Week?
Earlier this month, PJ Washington shared SEC Player of the Week honors with Tennessee’s Jordan Bone. After a dominant performance vs. the Vols, will PJ bring it home again? He definitely deserves it. We’ll find out in a few hours.
John Calipari in the morning
How is Cal feeling about his squad’s big win after a day of reflection? He’ll tell us on this morning’s SEC Teleconference, a call I’m sure he’ll take while walking into Dunkin’ Donuts, on the elliptical for his morning sweat, or any situation in which there’s a lot of background noise.
Kenny Payne in the afternoon
With Cal doing media in the morning, Kenny Payne will handle this afternoon’s media opportunity. Check the site around 2 p.m. for a live stream and recap of his comments, which are usually more insightful and interesting than Cal-speak.
Recruiting updates, including the latest on Keion Brooks
If you were too busy celebrating the Tennessee win to check the site yesterday, you missed some scoop from young Jack Pilgrim. Sources tell KSR that five-star forward Keion Brooks canceled his visit to Michigan State and is closing in on a decision, possibly in the next week. The timing of this news is particularly interesting because Brooks was in Rupp Saturday night on an unofficial visit. Will a perfect night in Rupp make Brooks a Cat? Check the site later today for the latest from Jack.
A new episode of “The Journey”
First we win, then we wait for a new episode of “The Journey,” KyWildcatsTV’s excellent behind-the-scenes YouTube series. We won’t get the Tennessee episode until tonight, but last night, UK dropped a sneak peek on Twitter:
@MrsTylerKSR Are you having as hard of a time waiting for the Tennessee cut of #TheJourney as we are? The good news is we've got an exclusive peek for you to hold you over until tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/rRO5TMBEKM
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) February 17, 2019
All-Star Game results
Team LeBron beat Team Giannis in the All-Star Game, which included two former Cats. Anthony Davis only played five minutes in the game due to a shoulder injury, but put up five points, including a three. Karl Towns was 5-7 from the floor for 11 points, 3 rebounds and an assist. This dunk was a nice highlight:
New OTT Podcast is here
Big wins call for emergency podcasts. Fake Barney took time out of his Sunday evening to chat with me about Kentucky’s thumping of the Vols. The episode is already available on The OTT Podcast feed on iTunes, and will drop on the KSR feed in just a bit. Speaking of podcasts, it’s Oscars Week, and the gang at 2 Guys, 1 Girl, Santa invited me on to pick winners. You can find that on iTunes or Soundcloud.
Happy birthday, Erin Calipari
The eldest Calipari daughter celebrates another trip around the world today, hopefully by slaying some more trolls on Twitter. Don’t worry; her dad remembered.
It’s @TheErinCalipari’s birthday! She has grown into a very talented, driven young woman who I’m so proud of. I can still remember her climbing the drawers in the kitchen, running and talking all day, then putting herself to bed. She would be sleeping in two minutes!!! pic.twitter.com/RqyxzICnMd
— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) February 18, 2019
ANYWAYS…radio in an hour. Go seize that Monday morning.
By Brent Wainscott on ©February 17th, 2019 @ 8:00pm
Losses are never fun, and there’s always the cliche that this year’s basketball team has adopted, “you win, or you learn.” Most people hear that and kind of dismiss it, but this Kentucky team looks like they’ve learned from their loss to LSU. Even though we all hate losing, let’s be honest, Kentucky needed that loss.
After an incredible 10-game win streak, beating five ranked teams in that time, the Cats looked to be running out of gas. They looked complacent, and the defense wasn’t up to par. They fooled around and let teams come back from big leads multiple times, and it finally came back to bite them on Tuesday night. Granted, LSU won on a questionable call, but the optimistic view thinks it actually might have been a good thing.
Coach Cal agrees, Kentucky needed that loss.
“I hit them right after the game with LSU, it was a tough loss, but we needed it,” Said Cal. “Our team is changing we’re not the defensive team that we’ve been, we have individuals changing how they were playing when they were successful. We need to get it back; we need to go back to what we were, and sometimes you gotta get knocked in the head to know that. The loss to LSU, probably helped us win this game.”
Getting back focused and to the team, they were in the early part of the winning streak was a big point of emphasis.
“We knew what happened on Tuesday was unacceptable,” Said Keldon Johnson. “We came out this game locked in. Even though we had a couple of mental lapses, we stayed locked in the whole time.”
This team has done a complete 180 since the first game against Duke. That game took a big hit on their confidence, and as a team that is predicated on their confidence, seeing them respond more focused while keeping that confidence nearly four months removed from the Duke game is a good sign.
“I think it kind of brought us back to Earth, after our 10-game win streak,” said Tyler Herro. “We were high on each other, but getting back to focused and sticking to the game plan and executing…I think we’re confident always, but the loss to LSU put us back.”
Let’s not forget the 2014-15 season. Was it fun to watch them to pursue an undefeated season? Absolutely and of course we wanted to see them go 40-0, but there was a chunk of the fanbase that felt like that team needed to lose just one game to handle adversity to be ready for March. Just like the South Carolina loss in 2014, the overtime Arkansas loss in 2011, and the Vanderbilt loss in the 2012 SEC championship, the LSU loss feels like the loss that can propel this team into a deep March run.
Am I saying Kentucky will win every game here on out? Not one bit, they could easily lose in Knoxville, and a loss in the SEC tournament is plausible as well. But, I think we look back on the LSU loss and say that was the turning point that elevated this Kentucky team to another level.
Without the loss to LSU, Kentucky may have lost to Tennesee. I don’t know about you, but if I had to pick only one game to win between those two, I’m taking Tennesee every time.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©February 17th, 2019 @ 2:15pm
Kentucky’s dominant 86-69 victory over No. 1 Tennessee on Saturday helped the basketball program well beyond the on-court success for this season.
After visiting Lexington for the massive win last night, sources have confirmed to KSR that 2019 five-star forward Keion Brooks Jr. has cancelled his trip to Michigan State originally scheduled for this afternoon.
2019 five-star forward Keion Brooks Jr. will not make the trip to Michigan State today following his unofficial visit to Kentucky. Final decision could come as soon as next week.
— Jack Pilgrim (@JackPilgrimKSR) February 17, 2019
Jeff Rabjohns of Peegs.com was the first to break the news.
Sources tell KSR a decision could come as early as next week, with a target deadline being the end of February.
I’ll dive more into the specifics tomorrow in the Monday Insider Notes, but this is major news for Kentucky and its pursuit of the elite 6-foot-8 talent out of Fort Wayne, Indiana.
In the meantime, take a look at his most recent highlight reel here:
Following a few weeks of lackluster play, Kentucky got their point guard back against Tennessee. After a bit of a jittery start, Ashton Hagans settled in for a great game against the No. 1 Vols. He set the pace, limited Tennessee point guard Jordan Bone (who had a good game, but was especially limited in transition, where the Volunteers scored just two baskets) and was able to feed Kentucky’s big men in the post. By the end of the game, he recorded nine points, seven assists, two steals, two rebounds and just one turnover in 36 minutes.
“Ashton today played like he had been playing,” John Calipari said after the game. “For two games, he went downhill and it affected us last game. And in this game, he came back.”
Referencing two “downhill” games may even be a bit conservative. In fact, before the Tennessee matchup, Calipari called out Hagans’ performances over the past three games.
“Ashton, the last three games, has not played well. As a matter of fact, he’s not played well at all,” Calipari said Friday before the game. “So [Tennessee] is a game where we’re going to need him to get back where he was 10 days ago, 12 days ago; where everybody was talking about him being the best on-ball defender in the country. A difference-maker; a creator.”
Saturday night, he was just that – a difference maker, especially on the defensive end.
“We need him on the defensive end. He’s the best part of our defense – he starts it,” PJ Washington said of Hagans. “Without him, we’re not really good on the defensive end. For him to pick up the opposing guards like that is crazy.”
For him to play his best, Calipari had to light a fire under Hagans. He did so by showing the team a compilation of the North Carolina game, specifically nine clips of Ashton Hagans’ best work. The clips included the possession where Hagans was “diving, tipping, fell into the stands, the bench and then came down and stole the ball,” according to Calipari.
“And what I basically said is… We don’t have this guy anymore. I don’t know where this guy went, but if we ever got him back we would be really good,” Cal said. “That’s who you were, now you chose to change. We don’t know why, but you chose to be somebody different.”
Against UNC, Hagans finished with eight steals, four rebounds, three assists and one block, while hitting two baskets and going 3-4 from the free-throw line for seven points. North Carolina may have been his breakout game of the season, but he hit his stride during his three-game stretch against Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and Georgia, when he scored 18, 15 and 23 points, respectively. But after his homecoming trip to Athens, he started to slip. Against Tennessee, he was back to his mid-season self.
“We just know Ashton is such an important piece for our team,” Keldon Johnson said of his point guard after the win. “When he’s at the top of his game, we’re a very good team. We feed off his defense – when he’s disruptive, everybody is disruptive… He was playing like we know he can play, and he’s amazing.”
But playing to his potential didn’t come easy for the Wildcat. Calipari said Hagans was one of two players who were really cramping up during the game (the other was PJ Washington), a sign of going “harder than he’s gone all year.”
“That’s why you cramp up – you went harder now,” Calipari said. “Like Kenny Payne was saying, we probably need to get seven percent more conditioning to bump this up so that we can play in a bunch of games. When you have back-to-back like this on a Thursday/Saturday or a Friday/Sunday, and you have this kind of game and you’ve got to follow it up with another one. Whew, I’m not sure we have that right now.”
Calipari, always the optimist. Regardless, welcome back, Ashton Hagans. The BBN is happy to have you.
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©February 17th, 2019 @ 12:00am
There are wins and then there are WINS. We knew No. 1 Tennessee coming to town would inspire Kentucky’s best effort and an electric atmosphere at Rupp Arena, but I’m not sure any of us expected a 17-point thumping. On the taped up shoulders of PJ Washington, Kentucky soared to an 86-69 win over Tennessee tonight, the biggest win over a No. 1 ranked team in program history.
The victory not only proved that Kentucky is a legitimate national title contender, it reestablished a pecking order in the SEC that had gone a bit awry. That “Orange is the new Blue” narrative ESPN’s been pushing? PJ Washington swatted it to the rafters along with Tennessee’s 19-game winning streak.
Let’s talk about it because, if you’re a Kentucky fan, there’s nothing more you’d rather do.
PJ Washington led the way
We knew from the first half of last year’s game in Knoxville that PJ Washington was capable of shutting down Grant Williams. Cramps robbed PJ of the second half of that game, but tonight, he was a machine, scoring 23 points off 9-12 from the floor and anchoring Kentucky’s offense. Last year, Williams admitted that PJ got into his head, and PJ did it again tonight, having his way with Tennessee’s bigs. When the ball was in his hands, PJ could not be stopped, and spurred his teammates to do the same.
One more thing PJ swatted to the rafters: the narrative that Kentucky players who aren’t one-and-dones are failures. PJ was projected to be a first-round pick last year, but by returning to school and working on his game, he’s inching into lottery territory. As Calipari constantly says, when PJ plays like this, he’s among the best in the country.
Reid did what he came here to do
Last year, Calipari complained that Tennessee’s players pushed his guys around, but tonight, the roles were reversed. The Cats owned the middle with 36 points in the paint to Tennessee’s 20 and winning the rebounding battle 39 to 26 in large part because of Reid Travis. Reid finished with 11 points and 8 rebounds, a stat line that doesn’t begin to describe his impact on the game. This is the game Reid was brought here for, and because of him, Kentucky was the most physical team on the floor. After the game, Cal said Reid battled so hard he had to get an IV in the locker room.
“The difference maker in the game for us was Travis,” Calipari said. “Now his numbers, 11 and 8, and you can say what you want, but he was a beast against another beast. Like it negated that. You’re not going to dominate us.”
Ashton Hagans bounced back
Kentucky’s dominance in the post was crucial tonight, but the matchup of the game was Jordan Bone vs. Ashton Hagans. The freshman busted out of his slump in a big way, finishing with nine points, seven assists, and only one turnover in 36 minutes. January Ashton is back, and as a result, the Cats fired on all cylinders, moving the ball crisply and controlling the tempo while holding the Vols to 28 percent from three.
“Ashton today played like he had been playing,” Cal said, telling reporters how he had the team look at tape of Hagans’ performance vs. North Carolina to remind them how great he can be. “For two games he went downhill and then it affected us the last game. And in this game he came back.”
Tyler Herro was fantastic
If you had to guess which player finished tonight’s game with a double-double, would you guess Tyler Herro? Probably not, but Herro was fantastic tonight, scoring 15 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. Herro’s still struggling a bit with his shot at Rupp, hitting only 3-11 from the floor, but continues to do all the other things to help his team win, such as skying for rebounds and diving after balls. He played so well I’ll forgive his first missed free throw since the North Carolina game.
Welcome back, Keldon Johnson
For Kentucky to beat Tennessee, they needed a huge game from Keldon Johnson; the freshman delivered in thrilling fashion, doing his best Tayshaun Prince impression with three big threes in the first half. It hasn’t been an easy month for Keldon, but he proved he’s worthy of the spotlight, finishing with 19 points. Build on that, Keldon.
Nothing motivates like a loss
Did Kentucky overlook LSU? That seems like a crazy thing to say about the No. 19 team in the country, but with No. 1 Tennessee coming in, John Calipari said a loss to the Tigers was exactly what his team needed to refocus.
“I hit them right after the game with LSU and just said, hey, that was a tough loss, but you know what, we needed it. Because our team is changing, we’re not the defensive team that we have been. We have individuals changing how they were playing when they were successful. We need to get it back. We need to go back to what we were, and you know what, sometimes you got to get knocked in the head to know that. So the loss to LSU probably helped us win this game.”
If you had to choose between wins over LSU or Tennessee, which would you pick? Thought so.
All is right in the world again
It’s not every day that Kentucky hosts the No. 1 team in the country. The last time it happened was 2007, an 86-77 loss to North Carolina. The Cats’ last win over a No. 1 team? 2011 vs. Ohio State in the NCAA Tournament. So, today was big. From College GameDay in Memorial Coliseum to a late tip in Rupp, the lead up to the top five showdown with Tennessee was exhilarating, but exhausting.
That’s why it was so great that the Cats came out and stomped the Vols, the exclamation mark the fan base has been begging for. On nights like tonight, Kentucky Basketball can’t be beat, a stroke of reassurance as we head into the final stretch of the season.
Kentucky completed dominated the Volunteers in the second half to earn a victory over the No. 1 team in America for the first time since the Cats ended Ohio State’s season in the 2011 Sweet 16.
P.J. Washington opened the game by scoring the Cats’ first seven points. Keldon Johnson hit four* three-pointers in a row (his foot was on the line for the first) to help UK build up a six-point halftime lead.
Kentucky sprinted out of the halftime locker room, opening the second half on a 14-0 run in the first three minutes to take a 20-point lead. 24,467 UK fans, the third-most in Rupp Arena history, made sure that lead was never in question.
The Vols showed a little life. After scoring just five points in the first seven minutes of the second half, Tennessee found a spark by switching to a 1-2-2 press and a 2-3 zone. The change of pace forced fast UK shots and ignited a 13-0 Tennessee run in only two minutes of of action. In spite of the run, Kentucky never lost a double-digit lead.
P.J. Washington finished with 23 points, the seventh time in eight games P.J. has scored 20 points or more. Keldon Johnson scored 19 points, Ashton Hagans dealt out seven assists and Tyler Herro grabbed a career-high 13 rebounds.
After falling to LSU in a heartbreaker, the 86-69 win over top-ranked Tennessee is exactly what the doctor prescribed.
Keldon Johnson on matchup with No. 1 Tennessee: “That’s what we’re here for. We came to Kentucky to play big games.”
By Jack Pilgrim on ©February 16th, 2019 @ 7:00pm
The time has finally come. Starting one hour from right now, your No. 5 Kentucky Wildcats will take on the No. 1 Tennessee Volunteers, just the 11th top-five regular season matchup in SEC history.
Kentucky is coming off a brutal loss at the buzzer to No. 19 LSU. Tennessee hasn’t lost a game since November 23. Both teams are expected to compete for a national title during the NCAA Tournament.
Lexington is buzzing. ESPN College GameDay is in town. Rupp Arena is sold out. Fans have been waiting outside to get in since this morning.
This is what Kentucky basketball is all about. And if you ask Kentucky forward Keldon Johnson, this is exactly why he decided to come to UK in the first place.
“That’s what we’re here for,” he said. “We came to Kentucky to play big games and I think everybody’s prepared, everybody’s been in the gym working, learned from our last game and I think if we come and do what we do I think we’ll be fine.”
As for Kentucky forward EJ Montgomery, he knew this team was going to come in and fight no matter what happened on Tuesday night. With the loss, though, he knows they’ll have just have that much more intensity when the ball is tipped on the big stage tonight.
“I think we were going to come in motivated regardless. But, losing that game just has us with more fire to win the next one.”
For Johnson, he knows his team has turned the page on LSU and is completely focused on taking down the dreaded Volunteers this evening. Practice has shown as much.
“We had a great practice yesterday,” he said. “We all came in focused, a lot of energy, ready to play and you can just tell on everybody’s faces that everybody was still locked in and they’re ready for the game.”
After dominating on the defensive end of the floor for weeks, things have slipped a bit over the course of the last few games. Johnson said that the key to winning tonight is revamping their defensive efforts and locking in.
If they do that, he likes his team’s chances. If not, he knows things probably aren’t going to end well.
“We just start with defense,” he said. “That’s with any game we play, not just nationally televised games or any of the games we play. It starts with defense, on the defensive end. When we lock in and play on the defensive end, we’re a pretty good team. When we don’t do that so much, not many good things happen.”
Kentucky head coach John Calipari knows what’s at stake here. He understands the magnitude of this matchup and how much he’ll learn about his team tonight, no matter what happens.
In his own words, this Tennessee team is physical, polished, well-coached, and possess a will to win that you don’t find with many teams.
“They’re good,” he said. “They’re not going to beat themselves. They’re physical. They fight for second and third opportunities to rebound. We’re struggling with rebound attempts right now. They are going three and four jumps at a ball. If you don’t block out they’re jumping over your back. … They’re good. They deserve to be the No. 1 team, and they deserve to have the winning streak they have.”
Calipari said if Kentucky wants a chance to win this game, they have to execute on both ends of the floor and fight on every possession. If not, this thing could get ugly fast.
“They’ve got a deep team, and their guard play, the way they shoot and the things that they do – they’re not winning with one guy or two guys, they’re winning because of how they’re playing. The biggest thing is, because they lead the country in assists – their assist-to-turnover ratio – they’re not going to beat themselves. They’re going to create great opportunities and they shoot the ball well. You better play a good game. That’s what I tell you. You better play good. Better not be any tentativeness. Just let it go and go play.”
We’ll find out here shortly what this team is made of.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©February 16th, 2019 @ 3:00pm
Another day, another successful ESPN College GameDay experience here in Lexington.
With thousands of people in the Memorial Coliseum stands this morning, we got to see wacky signs, incredible chants, crazy fans, and even a halfcourt shot that won one UK student $19,000.
Here are all of the sights and sounds you need to see as we inch closer to tip-off…
First, fans were lined up outside prior to the doors opening up:
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) February 16, 2019
Just a few of the signs and posters in the audience:
The famous eRupption Zone banner to get things rolling:
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) February 16, 2019
ESPN’s Rece Davis waving the Kentucky flag to show his support:
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) February 16, 2019
The Kentucky basketball team even made an appearance on the set, including an interview with PJ Washington and Reid Travis.
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) February 16, 2019
Kentucky fans show how much they love Duke’s Zion Williamson, including a “Zion’s fat” chant to put the icing on the cake:
The Big Blue Nation: Not big fans of Zion Williamson. pic.twitter.com/tSK0ItcZMd
— Jack Pilgrim (@JackPilgrimKSR) February 16, 2019
A shot-by-shot breakdown of the epic shot from halfcourt:
The shot itself:
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) February 16, 2019
And the big prediction…
Jay Williams picks the Cats to take down No. 1 Tennessee:
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) February 16, 2019
Here is the entire photo album from our very own Dr. Michael Huang:
The ESPN College game Day crew, #BBN, KSR and Dr.Mike were in the house this morning! Great crowd, and a kid hit the half court shot for $19,000!
By Jack Pilgrim on ©February 16th, 2019 @ 12:20pm
HE SHOOTS HE SCORES!!
During ESPN College GameDay at Memorial Coliseum this morning, University of Kentucky student McKinley Webb drilled the halfcourt shot to take home $19,000.
After the make, ESPN left Webb’s mic on and caught some pretty colorful (yet hilarious) language from the excited Kentucky fan.
Here was the epic moment:
“LETS F***ING GO!!!” pic.twitter.com/aRC94xGX3s
— KY Clips (@KY_Clips) February 16, 2019
After the dust settled, Webb let the world know he just wanted to put on a show for his hometown of Pikeville, KY.
DID IT FOR MY CITY https://t.co/83PubD8ess
— mckinley webb (@mwebb1998) February 16, 2019
He also wanted to apologize for the language, but believes his word choice might have been justified. It is $19,000, after all…
I’m sorry for my language but I just got a bag
— mckinley webb (@mwebb1998) February 16, 2019
If this isn’t a good omen for tonight’s game, I don’t know what is.
The Cats finally dropped a game to end their 10-game winning streak and tonight they’ll be playing in their biggest SEC game in over a decade. The Vols sit at 23-1 this season with an unblemished record in SEC. Tennessee has now held the top spot in the AP Poll in four consecutive weeks. They will now be looking to become the first SEC program during the Calipari era to win in consecutive years in Lexington.
College GameDay at Memorial Coliseum was a unique and awkward scene and now all eyes will be locked onto Rupp Arena during the primetime slot. This has a chance to go down as one of the most important games of the college basketball season. We’ll see if UK can bounce back strong after blowing a nine-point second half lead against LSU on Tuesday.
Nuts and Bolts
There’s no denying it, Tennessee has consistently been one of the best basketball programs in the history of the SEC. The Volunteers have won 10 conference titles and this year they’ll be looking to repeat for the first time in school history. Rick Barnes is quickly becoming a legend in Knoxville.
The 64-year-old head coach has been around for a very long time. The Hickory, North Carolina native first became a head coach in 1987 and since then he has been in college basketball sideline each season. The head coach has spent time running programs at George Mason, Providence, Clemson, Texas, and Tennessee. This season in Knoxville has been the best year of his coaching career.
Behind a team full of upperclassmen that has zero freshmen contributors, the Vols are playing excellent basketball. Tennessee’s only defeat occurred on a neutral court to a full strength Kansas squad in OT on a November Friday night. Since that loss in Barclays Center, the Big Orange have reeled off 19 consecutive victories with only two of them being by less than double-digits. Rick Barnes is currently the heavy favorite to be the national coach of the year.
This Tennessee team is absolutely dominant on the offensive end. UT does not have a weak link as shown by their national ranking of second in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency. Everything starts with Grant Williams in the post or the top of the key, but Barnes has constructed the roster to have the near perfect surrounding pieces. Tennessee has two combo guards who run point and can be effective spot-up shooters. Admiral Schofield can play the wing or be a stretch four. Kyle Alexander gives the Vols size and provides excellent offensive rebounding. Add in a potential dynamic wing scorer and a few glue guys and you have an excellent college basketball team.
Tonight will be the 226th meeting between the two schools and no program has beaten or lost to the Wildcats more than the Volunteers. UK leads the all-time series by a count of 154-71. Since arriving in Lexington, Rick Barnes has beaten the Wildcats at least once each season. Overall, Barnes is 4-3 against Kentucky since arriving on Rocky Top. John Calipari and Barnes have met a few times. Cal’s 2008 Memphis team defeated Barnes’ Texas team in the Elite Eight. That was the last time Barnes made it past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. In 2014-15, Barnes brought his last Texas team to Rupp Arena and lost by a count of 63-51. Overall, John Calipari is 12-6 against the Vols with a 7-1 record at Rupp Arena.
Out in the desert, Kentucky is a 4-point favorite with a total of 145.5. That’s a projected final score around 74.5-70.5. On the season, Kentucky is 13-10-1 against the spread while Tennessee is 14-8-1. In SEC play, the Wildcats are 6-4-1 against the number while the Volunteers are 7-4. In UK’s last 10 games, the under is 8-2. This will only be Tennessee’s third game as an underdog this season. Against projected NCAA Tournament teams, Kentucky is 7-4 against the spread while Tennessee is 2-2.
Tennessee is a feed the post team at nearly all times, but that’s not due to lack of options on the perimeter. Yes, the Vols do pound the paint but they have some very intriguing pieces at the guard spots. In junior point guard Jordan Bone, Tennessee has their best pro prospect.
The Nashville native is shooting nearly 40 percent from three in SEC play in addition to being a very effective two-point scorer. The 6-foot-3 guard has dished out at least five assists in every conference game this season. He leads the team in minutes and has reached double-digits scoring in seven of the last eight games. He’s about as steady as they come at the point guard spot.
Next to Bone is another very experience guard in Lamonte Turner. The redshirt junior from Alabama missed some games due to injury earlier in the season, but the Vols are very happy to have him back in the lineup. Turner can play the point if needed, but he’s an integral piece due to the floor spacing he can provide. The 6-foot-2 guard is shooting 37.5 percent from behind the arc in addition to shooting 63.6 percent from two. He’s very efficient and is one of five players averaging more than 11 points per game.
On the wing, Jordan Bowden is a 6-foot-5 guard who provides this team with a microwave scoring ability. The Sixth Man of the Year candidate in the SEC provides great versatility to the offensive attack. The Knoxville, Tennessee native is putting up over 11 points per game on shooting splits of .468/.395/.903. The perimeter player might be the team’s best outside shooter and is one of four players in the rotation that is shooting over 80 percent at the free throw line. This lineup has a lot of weapons.
Zion Williamson is the runaway national player of the year candidate. Dedric Lawson is one of the most skilled bigs in all of college basketball. Kentucky has faced both with mixed success, but Tennessee’s Grant Williams will be a whole other challenge.
In five career games against UK, Williams is putting up 12.8 points and 5.8 rebounds but that doesn’t tell the whole story. This year the potential first team All-American is putting up 19 and 7 in addition to being a very good rim protector. The Charlotte native is shooting 57.9 percent from the field and is a plus-80 percent free throw shooter. Williams has 107 free throw shots in just 11 SEC games and by himself can foul out an opposing frontcourt. In addition to his scoring, Williams is an excellent passer out of double teams and a solid rebounder at both ends. He’s a brute force that has a hint of finesse. He’ll go down as one of the best players to every play on Rocky Top.
There’s no question that Williams is the go-to piece, but Admiral Schofield is one crazy good sidekick. The undersized big is an excellent stretch four in addition to having the ability to play the wing in spurts. The 6-foot-6 forward is shooting over 40 percent from three and Tennessee force feeds him touches.
Schofield has at least 15 field goal attempts in nine games. The senior has attempted 60 more shots than Grant Williams and has already tossed up over 100 threes on the year. The versatile player scored over 20 points twice against UK last season and will be able to pull at least one UK big away from the basket at all times.
The main reason Schofield starts at the three is because Rick Barnes needs to have senior Kyle Alexander on the floor. The 6-foot-11 big is fairly skinny, but his long reach can wreak havoc on the offensive boards. He is very active and does a great job in playing volleyball and keeping rebounds alive for his teammates. He’s very limited on the offensive end, but can seriously impact the game with his rim protection. For a UK offense that has struggled with length, Alexander will cause some issues.
Keys to Victory
- Defensively, Tennessee wants to pack the paint. They do not want to allow foes to get easy buckets so they’re willing to give up three-pointers. That has hurt this squad at times and currently the Vols rank 13th in the SEC in three-point defense. In games against projected NCAA Tournament teams, Kentucky’s two perimeter scorers have performed. In these games, Keldon Johnson is shooting 50 percent from deep on 40 attempts while Tyler Herro is shooting 39.3 percent on 56 shots. Kentucky must be able to take advantage of the open looks from three.
- Since putting up a career-high 23 points in his homecoming game at Georgia, Ashton Hagans has only reached double-digits scoring once in the last eight games. The stud freshman “hit a wall” according to John Calipari and it appears he hasn’t fully adjusted to defenses sagging off. After a brutal performance against LSU, Kentucky needs Hagans to snap out of his offensive funk. Kentucky is not going to beat really good teams without solid point guard play on the offensive end.
- The Vols are excellent on the offensive glass, but on the other end they have struggled to keep opponents off the offensive glass. Tennessee ranks sub-200 nationally in defensive rebound percentage while Kentucky ranks top five in offensive rebound percentage. The focus will be all on P.J. Washington, but both E.J. Montgomery and Reid Travis have a great shot to impact the game by creating extra offensive possessions.
- Despite being an outstanding three-point shooting team, the Vols only get 24.1 percent of their points from behind the arc. They are excellent at drawing fouls and being efficient from two-point range. Tennessee is shooting 57.7 percent inside the arc due to their efficiency inside and high level execution in the halfcourt. Playing a team this good on offense, it will be essential for UK to not give away free points. Kentucky must guard without fouling.
- Speaking of fouling, P.J. Washington has finished with at least four fouls seven times in 11 games against projected NCAA Tournament competition. Last year against Tennessee, Washington spent the majority of two games on the bench with foul trouble. The other game he had to sit out due to cramps. For Kentucky to win, they have to have their best player on the floor. Washington is tough draw for both Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams. He could dominate the game if he guards without fouling. Don’t expect him to check Grant Williams.
By Aaron Torres on ©February 15th, 2019 @ 11:00pm
It’s the Game of the Century – welllllllll, maybe not quite. But even though Kentucky lost Tuesday to LSU, Saturday’s showdown with Tennessee remains massive. For the Wildcats, it is another chance to add a huge win to their resume, one to go along victories at Louisville, against North Carolina, and a season sweep of Mississippi State.
A win Saturday would also put Kentucky in line to reach all the goals they laid out before the season: To win the SEC, get a No. 1 seed and have a path to the Final Four through Louisville.
Of course to do that, Kentucky will have do something virtually no one else has been able to do this season: Knock off the Vols. Understand that Tennessee is every bit worthy of their current No. 1 ranking, as they sit at 23-1 overall and 11-0 in the SEC, with their only loss against Kansas, at a time when Kansas was at 100 percent. Since that loss, Tennessee has ripped off 19 straight wins. And what’s been especially impressive is that few were particularly close. The Vols have won their last six by double-figures.
So yeah, this game is huge and it won’t be easy for Kentucky to get the win – but when you’re as good as the Wildcats, it’s not impossible either.
What are the keys to a Kentucky victory? Here are six:
1. Can Ashton Hagans slow down Jordan Bone?
While it’d be easy to say “Kentucky’s No. 1 key is to slow down Grant Williams” that’s kind of approaching the problem the wrong way. You’re basically getting the right answer by asking the wrong question. Because ultimately you know what leads to so much of Williams success: Having a point guard who gets him the ball in a perfect position to score.
That point guard is Jordan Bone. And to his credit, Bone has quietly emerged into the most consistent point guard in the SEC. He is also the engine that drives the Vols’ bus, as the guy who plays the most minutes of anyone on the Vols roster (yes, more than Williams or Admiral Schofield) and has a sparkling 3.5-1 assist to turnover ratio. There is nothing more valuable in college basketball than a smart, veteran point guard who knows his role and does his job. And that is Bone for the Vols.
That’s also what makes Hagans’ play so important on Saturday.
It’s no secret that Hagans is one of the 2-3 best on-ball defenders in college basketball (if not the best) and Kentucky’s best hope of winning is to cut off the head of the snake – in other words, cut off Tennessee’s offense before they can get in rhythm. Can Hagans stay out of foul trouble and stay in Bone’s grill? Can he make it tough for Bone to get Tennessee into its offensive sets?
The best chance to beat Tennessee is to take them out of their rhythm and comfort zone. And Hagans is more than good enough to do that.
2. Kentucky needs to limit Tennessee’s three-point shooting
Again, because so much of the focus is on Williams and Schofield, what gets lost with Tennessee is that at most times they have five guys on the floor that can beat you at any given moment. It isn’t just the Vols two All-Americans, but also Bone, Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner who can get 20 if you don’t defend them.
And that’s especially true from beyond the three-point line. On the season, the Vols are shooting nearly 37 percent as a team with Schofield (40 percent), Bowden (39.5 percent) and Turner (37.5 percent) all hitting an insane number of threes.
That’s the bad news for Kentucky, but the good news is this: While three-point defense was once of this team’s biggest weaknesses it has now become a relative strength. The overall numbers don’t totally back it up (again, because Kentucky was so bad in the category to start the season) but the recent numbers do. In the Wildcats last four games, three of their opponents have shot below 30 percent from the three-point line. Even Tuesday’s loss to LSU wasn’t so much to do with the Tigers getting hot from the three-point line as other factors – LSU finished just 6 of 21 from behind the arc.
More than anything on the defensive end, limiting the three-point shot for Tennessee is key.
3. Get deep into Tennessee’s bench
Fun story. Late last summer I had Nevada coach Eric Musselman on the Aaron Torres Sports Podcast (by the way, if you haven’t been listening, this week’s guest is ESPN’s Sean Farnham – and he was awesome. Download here) and one of the topics we discussed was his team’s depth entering this season. I asked him if it was nice to have all those extra pieces and he told me something surprising. “No,” he said. “I’d rather have a shorter bench where everyone knows their role.”
Well, if there is one team that follows the “a short bench where everyone who knows their role is ideal” edict to a tee, it’s Tennessee. The Vols have six players who play 25 minutes or more this season, and basically take up big chunks of minutes. Two other players (Yves Pons and John Fulkerson) average between 10 and 12 minutes a piece. After that, basically no one sees the floor.
But even that eight-man rotation (the six who average 25+ minutes a game + Pons and Fulkerson) is deceiving. While Pons does play quite a bit because of his defensive presence (he’s 6’9 and a good defender) he brings next to nothing to the table offensively, averaging just three points per game. Fulkerson plays an “average” of 10 minutes per game on paper, but if you really dig deeper, most of those minutes came during blowouts in out of conference games. He has played 10 minutes or less in seven of Tennessee’s 11 SEC games.
Again, it’s Tennessee’s top six or bust. Meaning that the best thing that Kentucky can do is attack the Vols and try to get a few of their key guys in foul trouble. Do that, and the Vols have to insert either Pons or Fulkerson (or maybe both) into the lineup which makes them less versatile and less of a threat offensively.
Here’s a random prediction for you: If either Yves Pons or John Fulkerson plays more than 15 minutes on Saturday, Kentucky wins.
By Brent Wainscott on ©February 15th, 2019 @ 5:30pm
The Bat Cats start their season 1-0 as they defeat Austin Peay 8-4 on a rainy day in Clarksville, Tennessee.
Home-Runs seemed to be a common theme today for Kentucky as the Cats hit four home runs in their season opener, the biggest one coming from TJ Collett in the eighth inning. In the bottom of the seventh Kentucky had just given up their two-run lead on a two-RBI triple from Austin Peay’s Garrett Spain. Needing to rally quickly, the first four hitters in the eighth inning scored, three of them off the three-run home-run from Collett as the Cats regained the lead 6-4. In the ninth, UK would put two more on the board after a home-run from Breydon Daniel, and an RBI single from Tates Creek product Jaren Shelby.
It was a big day for fresh faces in UK’s lineup today, as three JUCO transfers playing in their first D1 game today hit home-runs. The first one came off the bat of Dalton Reed, who led all of junior college in home-runs as he wasted no time getting his first career home run at this level, sending the first pitch he saw over the center field wall. Reed also had two more hits on the day, keeping him one triple short of the cycle. A big day for Dalton Reed and it’s clear he will be a big bat in Kentucky’s lineup going forward. His teammate from Seminole State Junior College, Breydon Daniel got his in the top of the ninth and Tates Creek Alum, and State College Florida transfer Jaren Shelby hit his home-run in the top of the sixth to give UK a 2-0 lead at the time.
Zack Thompson had a solid opening day outing on the hill. He only went four short innings, which is understandable so early in the season, but those four innings were stellar. Nine of Thompson’s 12 outs were strikeouts through 16 batters faced, and he only gave up one hit in his outing as well. Dillon Harper, however, had a rough go of things as he just went two and a third, while giving up four runs in the sixth and seventh, but after Cole Daniels got Kentucky out of their jam with four pitches, Carson Coleman came in and shut the door to seal the Cats opening day victory. Carson Coleman also got credited with the win in relief.
Kentucky will play game two of the weekend series tomorrow at 2 PM. You can catch the game on 98.5 FM Lexington as a nice appetizer before Kentucky basketball takes on Tennesee tomorrow night in Rupp Arena.
Follow me on Twitter: @BrentW_KSR
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©February 14th, 2019 @ 11:00pm
One of Tennessee’s biggest strengths is experience. With a plethora of upperclassmen, this Volunteers squad is practically a carbon copy of the one Kentucky faced three times last season, but with another year of growth and maturity.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at what happened in those three games to determine Kentucky’s best strategy for Saturday.
January 6: No. 23 Tennessee 76, No. 17 Kentucky 65 (Knoxville)
Several Kentucky players were battling the flu, PJ Washington went down with cramps, and the refs were terrible. Excuses aside, the Cats got whipped, with Kevin Knox turning in one of the worst games of his Kentucky career.
KEY FACTOR: PJ Washington exiting the game with cramps. Before going to the locker room with 12 minutes left, PJ had 13 points and was winning his matchup with Grant Williams. Once PJ was out, Williams took over, scoring 16 of his 18 points in the second half. Afterwards, Williams admitted that PJ was in his head.
“He shut me down in the first half,” Williams said. “I’ll give it to him. He was in my head a little bit. I think the cramps hurt their team a lot. Just the fact they were playing with so much confidence when he was in the game.”
QUOTES: “They out toughed us,” Caliapri said. “They just threw us around. It was embarrassing. As soon as we had PJ out of the game, we had no shot of winning…When PJ went down, they saw a wounded animal and went right at them. We were literally standing with cheerleaders on a bunch of shots. ”
February 6: No. 15 Tennessee 61, No. 24 Kentucky 59 (Lexington)
Costly turnovers by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander resulted in a clutch three by Lamont Turner with 26 seconds left and the game-winning dunk by Admiral Schofield with four seconds left, the latter a cruel twist of the knife in what was an epic collapse by Kentucky.
KEY FACTOR: There were plenty of reasons Kentucky lost — Kevin Knox, PJ Washington, and Hamidou Diallo didn’t play well — but what people will remember most is Calipari’s decision NOT to call a timeout to set up a play in the final seconds. As a result, chaos ensued and the Cats took an L at Rupp.
QUOTES: “I make mistakes at the end and cost them the game,” Calipari said. “But I should have called a timeout. I don’t ever like to in those situations, but this is a different team. This team is too young. They’re just too young to know that what’s there and if they get in trouble just call a timeout.”
March 11: Kentucky 77, No. 13 Tennessee 72 (SEC Championship, St. Louis)
Unlike his last meeting with the Vols, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander shined, finishing with 29 points and SEC Tournament Most Outstanding Player honors. Similarly, Kevin Knox played much better, turning in 18 points, including three threes. Kentucky led by as many as 17 in the first half, but Admiral Schofield brought Tennessee back into it, leading a 15-3 run to bring the Vols within five at half. From there, it was a back and forth battle, but Shai’s free throws with 2.4 seconds left clinched the victory.
KEY FACTOR: Shai. After costing the Cats in the last game vs. Tennessee, Shai took over this time around, hitting clutch bucket after clutch bucket to drag Kentucky to the win.
Also big: three-point shooting. Kentucky was 7-16 (43.8 percent) from behind the arc vs. 3-14 (21.4 percent) in Rupp a month prior. And any discussion of this game is incomplete without the clip of Sacha Killeya-Jones’ dunk:
QUOTES: “I think right now he’s playing his best basketball because he’s one of our leaders,” Kevin Knox said of Shai. He knows he’s getting better with the decision-making. Late in the game, he made some huge plays, knocked down some free throws, and found people. He’s also doing it on the defensive end. He’s really good defensively, and he’s playing really well right now.”
So, what lessons did we learn from last season about this Tennessee team?
- PJ is capable of shutting Grant Williams down
- Can’t get bullied in the post (paging Reid Travis)
- Call the timeout if you need to, Cal
- Hit threes
- Strong guard play is key
- Random dunks by big men off the bench are good omens
We got this.
Celebrate Valentine’s Day with these Kentucky basketball-themed Valentine’s Day cards. You can save them to your phone to send to your significant other or print them out and pass them around town. Choose your own adventure.
And have a Happy Valentine’s Day from us here at KSR.