Hoops Preview: #22 Tennessee at #18 Kentucky

The 22nd-ranked Tennessee men’s basketball team heads north Saturday for a matchup with rival Kentucky at Rupp Arena. Tip-off is set for 1 p.m. ET. 

Fans can catch Saturday’s game on ESPN and online or on any mobile device through WatchESPN. WatchESPN can be accessed through the ESPN App, or online at espn.com/watch. Dan Shulman (play-by-play), Jay Bilas (analysis) and Holly Rowe (reporter) will have the call.
 
Fans can also listen live on their local Vol Network affiliate to hear Bob Kesling and Bert Bertelkamp calling the action. The broadcast is also available on channel 133 on Sirius, channel 191 on SiriusXM and channel 962 on the SiriusXM app.

Vols F John Fulkerson Credit: UT Athletics


 
Tennessee (11-4, 2-2 SEC) picked up its second SEC home win on Tuesday, registering a 20-point win over South Carolina, 66-46. Junior guard Josiah-Jordan James finished with 11 points and 12 rebounds for his second career double-double and first of the season. He also had a pair of assists, one block and a steal. Freshman guard Zakai Zeigler finished the game with 11 points, four steals and four assists in 22 minutes off the bench.
 
Saturday marks Tennessee’s 15th meeting with Kentucky since Rick Barnes arrived in Knoxville prior to the 2015-16 season. The Vols have posted an 8-6 record against the Wildcats during that stretch, including winning their last two games at Rupp Arena.
 
Saturday’s game at Kentucky marks the first of a two consecutive road games for Tennessee. The Vols are back on the road on Tuesday, taking on Vanderbilt at Memorial Gymnasium. Tip-off in Nashville is set for 9 p.m. ET on SEC Network.
 
THE SERIES
• Tennessee trails the all-time series with Kentucky, 157-75, dating to 1910.
• The Wildcats have a 91-19 edge when the series is played in Lexington, but Tennessee has won three of the last four meetings at Rupp Arena, including each of the last two.
• Overall, the Vols have won six of their last 10 games vs. Kentucky.
• Vols sophomore Justin Powell is a native of Prospect, Kentucky, and a graduate of North Oldham High School in Goshen.
• Several veteran Vols played against Kentucky guard Kellan Grady during his days at Davidson; the Vols face Davidson annually in a closed preseason scrimmage in Knoxville.
• John Fulkerson and current NBA rookie Yves Pons (Grizzlies) are the only Vols ever to appear in three wins at Rupp Arena.
 
LAYUP LINES – TEAM
• According to KenPom, the Vols rank second in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing only 87.1 points per 100 possessions.
• The Vols are forcing an average of 20.3 turnovers per game during SEC play. The next-closest SEC team (LSU) forces 17.0 per game.
• Kentucky is committing only 10.5 turnovers per game in SEC play—the fewest in the league.
• The Vols rank among the Division I top 20 in turnover margin (+6.4, 3rd), steals per game (10.7, 9th) and assists per game (17.4, 16th).
• The Vols are 9-0 this season when they out-rebound their opponent. Tennessee won the rebounding battle in each of its last two trips to Rupp Arena.
• Tennessee is one of only three SEC teams that has yet to surrender 80 points this season, joining LSU and Ole Miss.
• Each of the four teams that have beaten Tennessee this season are ranked in this week’s AP Top 25.
• Tennessee is shooting just .571 (40-70) from the free-throw line over its last three games.
 
LAYUP LINES – PLAYERS
• Santiago Vescovi has increased his team-leading 13.6 ppg scoring average to 14.5 ppg in SEC play.
• Vescovi’s 2.00 assist/turnover ratio during SEC play ranks second in the league behind only TyTy Washington Jr. (3.38).
• In two career games at Rupp Arena, Josiah-Jordan James averages 13.0 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 steals.
• Kennedy Chandler’s 5.1 assists per game rank second among Division I true freshmen. And his 2.29 steals per game rank third among true freshmen nationally.
• Chandler has a team-high 10 steals over UT’s last three games.
• The SEC record for career games played is 152, held by Kentucky’s Darius Miller (2008-12). John Fulkerson is closing in, having now appeared in a Tennessee-record 145 career games.
• Fulkerson also is just eight points shy of 1,000 for his career.
 
ABOUT KENTUCKY
• Kentucky (13-3, 3-1 SEC) enters Saturday’s matchup coming off two straight double-digit conference wins over Georgia and Vanderbilt. The Wildcats split their opening two SEC games, defeating Missouri and falling at LSU.
• Kentucky also split its two most notable non-conference games, defeating North Carolina and falling to Duke, both at neutral sites.
• Dating to last season, Kentucky has won 12 straight games at Rupp Arena.
• Kentucky ranks eighth in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency, scoring 118.1 points per 100 possessions. The Wildcats rank 23rd in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing 93.1 points per 100 possessions.
• Kentucky junior Oscar Tshiebwe, a transfer forward from West Virginia, leads the nation in rebounding with 15.1 per game. Tshiebwe has four games this season with 20 or more rebounds, including a 28-rebound performance against Western Kentucky on Dec. 22. Tshiebwe also is Kentucky’s leading scorer, averaging 17.0 points per game.
• Largely in part to Tshiebwe’s efforts, Kentucky ranks third in the nation and first in the SEC in rebounding as a team with 43.4 per game.
• Junior guard Sahvir Wheeler, a transfer from Georgia, is averaging 9.6 points and a team-high 7.3 assists per game this season. Wheeler started every one of Kentucky’s games at point guard before suffering an injury at LSU on Jan. 4, which has caused him to miss the Wildcats’ last two games.
• Wheeler’s 7.3 assists per game rank third in the nation and lead the SEC. As a team, the Wildcats rank 17th in the country with 17.4 assists per game.
 
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 232 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. Half of those wins have taken place during the Barnes era.
• 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.
• In each of the last four meetings, the team that has won the rebounding battle has won the game.
 
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 8-6 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 4-2 against Kentucky in Knoxville, 3-3 vs. the Cats in Lexington and 1-1 against UK in neutral-site clashes at the SEC Tournament.
 
LAST MEETING WITH KENTUCKY
•  No. 19 Tennessee fell to Kentucky, 70-55, on Feb. 20, 2021, at Thompson-Boling Arena.
•  Tennessee was plagued by a difficult day of shooting from the field, knocking down just 18 of its 56 attempts, while Kentucky connected on 50 percent (7-14) of its attempts from 3-point range.
• Victor Bailey Jr. led the Vols in scoring—for the second consecutive game—with 18 points on 5-of-10 shooting. He was 4-of-8 from the 3-point range.
•  Freshman Keon Johnson totaled 15 points, a season-high-tying five assists, three rebounds, one block and a steal.
•  Senior Yves Pons was the third Vol to score in double-figures, as he finished with 10 points, three blocks and a pair of steals.
•  John Fulkerson led the Vols in rebounds, grabbing seven.
•  Kentucky held control through the entirety of the first half, building a lead as large as 17 while knocking down more than 60 percent of its attempts from the field and shooting 6-of-9 from behind the 3-point arc.
•  Holding a 45-30 lead out of the locker room, Kentucky increased its lead to 20 during the first 10 minutes of the second half.
•  The Wildcats held steady over the game’s final stages, responding to each of Tennessee’s attempts to rally. The Vols held the Wildcats to 21 percent shooting in the second half, but Kentucky consistently got to the free-throw line, where it shot 85 percent for the game (17 of 20).
•  Isaiah Jackson led UK with 16 points, while Davion Mintz scored 15. Keion Brooks Jr. logged a double-double with 10 points and 14 rebounds.
 
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 = 1,491 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 754. Rick Barnes is a close second with 737 victories to his credit.
• Among all active Division I head coaches, Calipari and Barnes rank fifth and 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? Former Arizona head coach Sean Miller.
 
CALIPARI AMONG TENNESSEE’S MOST-FACED ACTIVE COACHES
• On Saturday, John Calipari will coach his 32nd career game against the Vols. Among active college coaches, he has the most career meetings against Tennessee.
 
COACH            MEETINGS       UT’s RECORD vs.
John Calipari    31                      13-18
Tubby Smith     26                       7-19
Frank Martin     16                      11-5
 
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                                       9
Louisville                                   8
Auburn, Cincinnati, Kansas      5
 
VOLS GETTING TO THE LINE LATELY
• In its 11 games prior to entering SEC play, Tennessee attempted just 13.0 free throws per game. But through four conference games, the Vols are shooting an average of 22.5 free throws per game.
• Santiago VescoviOlivier Nkamhoua and—(surprisingly) Uros Plavsic all share the team lead with 15 free-throw attempts during SEC play.
• In each of the last four seasons, Tennessee has shot at least 75 percent at the charity stripe.
• But since the start of the SEC play, this collection of Vols is shooting an uncharacteristic 63 percent (57 of 90).

-UT Athletics

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