(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Tonight at seven o’clock Rupp Arena will come alive once again, with hatred for the Creamsicle® and white in the second installment of the border war. The recently rejuvenated Tennessee Volunteers — on the heels of newborn Jarnell Stokes — are riding a solid one-game winning streak heading into Lexington, with a victory over Auburn last Saturday. The Vols have gone 2-2 since the last time these two teams met and sit one game below .500, while Kentucky has improved to 21-1 and are atop the college basketball world.
Tennessee is putting up decent numbers in major offensive averages, like 69 points per game and 45% shooting. But compared to Kentucky, much like the first matchup was, it’s no contest. Kentucky is allowing a stellar 58 points per game and 36% shooting on defense. Tennessee already has a hard time scoring points, and the Cats’ defense certainly won’t let up in front of a home crowd.
Plenty else has changed since the last meeting, Terrence Jones became a monster overnight, Marquis Teague has become remarkably consistent as a true point guard, and Darius Miller has found his stroke.
Jones played 24 minutes in Knoxville and scored ten points with five rebounds. It was a good game and had most fans nodding their heads in confidence that Terrence was “back” in his true form, or at least out of his post-pinky injury funk. Since then Jones has really turned it on (with one exception at Georgia) putting up double-digit scoring days against Arkansas, Alabama and LSU all while playing visibly aggressive and showing the “will to win.” It was the Tennessee game a little over two weeks ago that started this chain reaction of Terrence Jones returning to All-American form — and I think that was due in large part to his matchup on Jarnell Stokes. It will be a good thing for Stokes to push Jones around a bit tonight to continue to fuel the fire. Stokes is a heck of a player, no doubt, but Jones can easily unleash on him.
Marquis Teague committed five turnovers against the Volunteers (still a good number for the way the Cats play), but since then only has seven in the last four games. Incredible. Teague is controlling the game without doing too much, and that’s all they need from him. You can’t look at any one column in the boxscore and say he had a bad game because there’s not much in it; he’s doing it without putting up big numbers. Nine assists against Arkansas and seven against Georgia are two of his four biggest on the season since he last dished out eight against Chattanooga back in mid-December. Marquis Teague is in a tough spot because he can very easily lose a game for the Cats with mistakes, but doesn’t necessarily have the ability to win a game by scoring. Nevertheless, he has found his role on the team — being a game manager without making mental errors.
Much like Marquis Teague turning it on after the Tennessee game, Darius Miller found is stroke from outside after leaving Knoxville. Since scoring four against the Vols, he has put up 11, 11, 19 and 13 on 10-16 shooting from three-point land. That’s 63% in the last four games. Miller said he recently saw on film he was releasing the ball on the way down, and corrected it. Now we’re seeing results. Leading scorer Doron Lamb is almost taking a backseat to Darius Miller’s sweet stroke.
One final note: You might remember the last time Kentucky wore alternate jerseys in 2009 with Billy Clyde running the show. It was a dark time in more ways than one. Kentucky donned the “Keightly black” for a second time that season to an attempt to inspire extra motivation for a huge game against the LSU Tigers in the second round of the SEC Tournament. The Cats were a four-seed and Tigers a one-seed. Kentucky lost the game 67-58 to secure its birth in the NIT. I don’t want to draw any comparisons to 2009 and now, but I think it’s fairly safe to say a long-awaited win in alternate jerseys is coming for Kentucky as they will wear the Nike Hyper Elite Platinum uniforms tonight. Connecticut wore them last week and they do look pretty sharp on the court. Recruits love this kind of stuff, especially because it’s not denim.
Tennessee visits Rupp Arena where the Cats haven’t lost since John Calipari has been the coach. Tennessee isn’t that great of a team. Kentucky is. Cats by 90.
I leave you with a piece of trivia to ask your friends during the game. Q: Who was the “Y” in “Kentucky” the last time Tennessee played in Rupp Arena? A: John Wall. The more you know…