It’s been three weeks since Tennessee handed Kentucky their first SEC loss of the season, a loss that started Kentucky’s five-game downward spiral.
Kentucky surrendered 82 points to the Vols, revealing the first obvious sign of defensive flaws. After dropping three games out of four, concluding with a 20-point thumping on the road at Florida, John Calipari revealed a “reboot.” Slowly, but surely, Kentucky’s defense has improved. Saturday in Tuscaloosa the Cats held the Crimson Tide to just 30 points in the first 30 minutes of the game.
Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes expects to see a much different defense from Calipari’s Cats than the last time the two played.
“They aren’t the exact same team that we played a couple weeks back.” Barnes added, “I’d like to think we have gotten better in some areas.”
Tennessee enters Rupp Arena two days after letting a win slip away, falling to Georgia by just one point. With a 14-point lead in the second half, Tennessee let J.J. Frazier score 20 points down the stretch. Hearing Barnes describe his team’s defensive struggles sounds awfully similar to what we’ve heard from John Calipari: bad ball screen defense, poor rebounding and obvious, embarrassing mistakes.
“When you let a guy dribble through your whole team, it is obvious that you’re not getting it done on the defensive end.”
Moving forward, the Vols are in a much different place than the last time they faced Kentucky. Barnes is pushing his young team to appropriately respond to adversity.
“It is a different game,” Barnes said. “When we were here last time we were coming off a good win against Mississippi State and we were at home. Now we are coming off a tough loss and going on the road, so mindset is very important, how are we going to be able to get on to the next one?”
After they let Frazier deuce all over them on Saturday, Barnes expects to see Calipari use his playmakers in pick-and-roll situations early and often.
“John (Calipari) knows what he’s doing. He knows his team. They’ve got a number of different guys that can have just spectacular nights against you.” Barnes added, “We, ourselves, have to do a better job of doing the things that we talk about that we need to do, from our point of view.”