No. 12 Kentucky will look to bounce back from an overtime stunner at Arkansas when it kicks off a three-game homestand with a visit from Tennessee on Saturday afternoon. Despite the loss in Fayetteville, Kentucky coach John Calipari said he was happy with the way his team repeatedly clawed back from deficits late. “I’m proud of my team that they didn’t quit, they kept playing,” Calipari told the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Tennessee has won five of six to surge back into the NCAA Tournament picture, but is searching for its first win at Rupp Arena since 2006. The Volunteers, though, say the hostile environment of Lexington is nothing but a motivator. “As a basketball player, these are the types of games you live for,” Jeronne Maymon told the Knoxville News-Sentinel.
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ABOUT TENNESSEE (11-5, 2-1 SEC): Jordan McRae has emerged as one of the SEC’s top scorers, leading Tennessee at 18.4 points per game and ranking tied for sixth in the league. Another strength for the Volunteers has been on the glass, where they rank behind only Kentucky in the SEC in rebounding margin. Saturday’s game pits the top two rebounders in the SEC against each other – with Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes (9.6 per game) up against Kentucky phenom Julius Randle (11.1).
ABOUT KENTUCKY (12-4, 2-1): On the strength of its front line, the Wildcats have dominated the paint for much of their season. It starts with Randle (16.9 points), but Willie Cauley-Stein has also taken major steps forward in his second year in Lexington. The 7-0 Olathe, Kan. native has racked up 7.6 rebounds per game, and has cracked double-figure scoring in three of Kentucky’s last five games.
1. Kentucky is one of two SEC teams averaging over 80 points per game.
2. Tennessee ranks third in the league in free-throw shooting at 70.2 percent.
3. The Volunteers have averaged 15.7 turnovers in three SEC games.
PREDICTION: Kentucky 82, Tennessee 71