This is the official Open Game Thread for Kentucky at Tennessee.
There are big games, and there are big games. This is one of the latter variety for the Kentucky Wildcats and the Tennessee Volunteers. The winner of this game will have the inside track on winning the SEC East, and quite possibly the SEC regular season championship. This game, should Kentucky win, would undoubtedly do much to increase the likelihood of an NCAA tournament appearance for the Wildcats.
However, there are major obstacles to a Wildcat victory which make this task even more daunting than it might otherwise be. Not only must the Cats overcome a huge partisan crowd at Thompson-Boling arena and a fired-up Volunteer team coming off a loss to arch-rival Vanderbilt and still smarting from the loss in Rupp Arena a month ago, but they must do it without the services of Patrick Patterson.
A casual glance would suggest that Kentucky's odds of winning this game are very small indeed. Kentucky wasn't exactly running teams out of the gym even with Patterson, and the last time Kentucky played a road game without him, they got shellacked. But this is a much different team than that one. This UK team has become as tough and resilient as a piece of iron, but toughness alone will not win this game. It will take UK players playing as a team, well above the level at which they have played at any time this year. Some players who have received very sparse playing time over the last several months are going to have to step in and contribute, perhaps much more than they should be expected to. In other words, the Wildcats must overcome a massive obstacle in order to succeed.
Win or lose, this game will be instructive as to how far Gillispie has been able to bring the rest of this team. He has been telling us repeatedly that Carter is now ready to contribute, and my assumption is that the time has come to find out whether or not that is true, or coach-speak. We have seen short cameos by Carter and A.J. Stewart lately, but none of them have provided much reason for optimism, although to be fair, they have been very brief.
Keys to the game:
Ballhandling -- Against Tennessee, good ball handling is disproportionately important.
Defensive Determination -- UK needs the most intensity ever from this team on the defensive end to have a prayer.
Rebounding -- With Patterson, UK was average on the glass. Without him? The Cats need to block out, and fight for every possession.
Force Tennessee to run half-court offense -- The first key to defeating Tennessee is to deny them turnovers. The second is to make them operate in the half-court.
Fearlessness -- Shrinking violets need not show up for this game. The only way to face a vastly superior opponent is fearlessly, and the Cats have shown that lately. They will need it in spades today.
This game is an opportunity that is the culmination of the work of the last two months. Patterson's absence does not change the opportunity, but it will force Kentucky to find answers where none seem to be available. Nevertheless, the chance to win the regular-season SEC championship is within our grasp. We control our own destiny, and if fate has closed one door, we must find another and force it open. This game is Kentucky's hope, however slim, to completely redeem this season. Ready or not, it lasts for 40 minutes and will be strongly opposed. Bring it with you, Wildcats, for you won't find it out there on the floor.
Leave your comments below if you have them.