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Kentucky Wildcats Morning Quickies: Vols and Valentines Edition

Kentucky gets its rematch with Tennessee tonight in Rupp Arena. Are they ready for it?

Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, and welcome to the Tuesday Morning Quickies. Happy Valentines Day to all and sundry.

Today’s edition is all about the St. Valentine’s Day orange invasion of Rupp Arena tonight (well, at least for the team in the opponent’s uniforms). Tennessee handed Kentucky a loss in Knoxville three weeks ago that was the beginning of a two-game slide and three losses in four games for the Wildcats — unfamiliar territory for Calipari-coached teams at UK.

The rematch tonight promises to be a tough one. Tennessee has been playing well since beating Kentucky, defeating Kansas State, Auburn on the road, and Ole Miss at home. They dropped games to Mississippi State on the road and a tough one to Georgia by a single point at home on Saturday.

Tennessee doesn’t impress by the numbers, they impress with their effort and intensity. Sometimes, their skill doesn’t let them get victories despite their work ethic, but make no mistake, this Tennessee team is a threat to sweep the UK series this season if the Wildcats try to waltz through the Vols.

Rick Barnes tells his team it’s all about a winning mindset, and to take it one game at a time.  Calipari, alternatively, is talking about situational basketball and keeping leads once you get them:

“Just learning how to play in situational basketball,” he said. “You know, you think about it, the fast team that we had in 2012, we were fast. This team could be faster. But, how did we play in the championship game (against Kansas)? What was the final score? Sixty-seven to 59. And it was only because we were shooting fouls at the end. That game was in the low 60s because we had to be in the low 60s to win the game.”

Teams have clearly learned how to slow Kentucky’s roll, at least in the most important area of keeping them out of a constant 94-foot track meet. Kentucky has to learn to win execution games as well, and that’s the challenge that SEC opponents have been presenting to them lately. Tennessee likes to play with more pace than Alabama or Georgia, but they won’t want to run with UK in Rupp Arena. So likely, this will be another execution game with tough defense and longer possessions.

Will Kentucky’s new commitment on the defensive end continue versus the Vols? The season may well turn on the answer to that question. Stay tuned.

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“Look, you can sit there and go crazy when they give up a lead or you can figure out, ‘Why are they doing this?’ Because we’ve done it five times. Top 25 and all of the sudden you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, we could lose this.’ If we haven’t talked about it, we haven’t really worked on it and shown them – you can’t blame them. Dudes are in high school six months ago. Trying to play what we’re doing against veteran teams?"

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