Tennessee Volunteers (23-1) at Kentucky Wildcats (20-4)
Game Time: 8 pm EST on February 16, 2019
Location: Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky
TV Channel: ESPN
Announcers: Jay Bilas, Dan Shulman Maria Taylor.
Radio: Tom Leach and Mike Pratt will have the UK radio network call on 630 AM and 98.1 FM in Lexington or online at UKAthletics.com.
Replay: Check local listings on the SEC Network and WatchESPN.
Odds: Kentucky opened as a three-point favorite at home over the top-ranked Vols. The line has moved to 3.5 as of Saturday morning. KenPom projected the Wildcats to be a 2.5-point favorite. Go here for more betting trends and expert picks on the game.
Predictions: ESPN is putting a lot of stock in the Cats having home-court advantage and currently lists them with a 59% chance to beat the Vols. KenPom gives them a 59% chance of winning and projects a 74-72 final score in favor of the Cats. Go here for our staff predictions.
While we wait for the game, check out the highlights of Kentucky’s last win over the Volunteers:
The Wildcats are set to play in arguably their biggest game of the regular season when the Volunteers invade Rupp Arena.
Tuesday night was painful for Kentucky, but there is no time for the Cats to sulk or feel sorry for themselves. They haven’t lost back-to-back home games since the Billy G era, and things aren’t going to get any easier with the Vols coming to town. The race for the SEC-regular season championship is still far from over, but winning on Saturday is now critical.
The No. 1 Volunteers are coming to Rupp Arena on Saturday night in what will still be one of the biggest games of the Calipari era. For months now, a collision course between UK and UT has been imminent.
Now, that moment is finally upon us. ESPN’s College GameDay understands the magnitude of this matchup and will be returning to Kentucky for the second time in just four weeks.
Only this time, Rece Davis and the gang will be taking over Memorial Coliseum for the pregame hype show. Typically, the College GameDay game of the week is tipped off at 6:00 pm, but the Cats and the Vols will be in primetime at 8:00 pm to add even more exposure to this blockbuster showdown.
As far as a February regular-season game goes, this is still very important for SEC standings, NCAA seeding, and bragging rights. To say that there will be a “buzz’ around Lexington is a vast understatement, especially after the loss to LSU. The game is completely sold-out and a huge crowd is also expected to be on hand for College GameDay.
I actually believe that losing at the buzzer on Tuesday will only add to the atmosphere in Rupp Arena considering that losing two home games in a row is completely unheard of. I am sure that John Calipari will be pulling all of the stops to ensure that the Cats are as prepared as possible to prevent that from happening.
This monumental battle will not only have major implications on the SEC regular-season title, but it will also carry consequences for seeding in the NCAA tournament. Kentucky is now 9-2 in conference play sitting in third place behind Tennessee and LSU. The Cats are fortunate to still have the opportunity to sweep the series with the Vols and put themselves in a position to close the gap. With seven games left, the regular-season conference is still within reach.
In the preseason polls, Tennessee was picked by many experts to win the SEC, and rightfully so. The Vols have proven their worth over from last season to now and are currently the deserving top-ranked team in America, which is a strong statement considering the amount of talent on Duke’s roster.
Now in his fourth season, Rick Barnes has done an incredible job in making Tennessee relevant around college basketball. Last year, he took the Volunteers to the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament and finished with a 26-9 overall record. With the nucleus of that team back for 2019, it will now be Barnes’ objective to finish things better than they did last year and reach the school’s first Final Four. Vegas Insider currently has Tennessee with 15/2 odds to win the national championship.
Tennessee’s lone loss came way back on November 23rd when they dropped an overtime thriller to Kansas in the NIT Season Tip-off Championship game. Don’t forget, that was a Kansas team that at the time had a healthy starting Center in Udoka Azubuike, and were ranked No. 2 in the country. Very little separates the Vols from being an incredible 23-0 heading into Saturday’s with the Cats.
It’s not just their record that makes them look elite. By the numbers, Tennessee is having an extremely impressive season through 24 games. The Vols are averaging 85.4 points per game and shooting nearly 37% from three.
You can see their season stats versus opponents below.
The bottom line is that Tuesday’s loss to LSU stinks, but Kentucky cannot let it have any bearing on their matchup with the No. 1 team in the nation on Saturday. Tennessee is simply too good for Kentucky, or any team, to not be clicking on all cylinders if they want to win.
Saturday’s game has all of the ingredients to be something special and anyone who follows college basketball knows it.
UK is good enough to win, and frankly, should win on their home court. Here is how they can do it.
3 Keys to the Game:
Contain Grant Williams
At 19.4 points and 7 rebounds a game, Williams is having a monster year leading his team to a No. 1 ranking. He is leading the SEC in scoring by a considerable margin and front runner for SEC Player of the Year.
In three meetings with Kentucky last year, Williams averaged 14.3 points, which included 15 points and 9 rebounds in the SEC Championship game. But this is not the same Grant Williams from a season ago. He is on a complete tear and has established himself as one of the best scorers in the nation.
Many fans probably remember him most for the ridiculous 43-point outburst when the Vols squeaked out a win against Vandy earlier this year. South Carolina managed to keep him out of double figures on Wednesday with only eight points on eight shot attempts.
Containing Williams will have to be priority No. 1 if Kentucky wants to beat Tennessee on Saturday. The good news is that PJ Washington has shown some past success in guarding 6-7 power forward.
This week, Kyle Tucker from the Athletic reminded the Big Blue Nation of how Washington essentially dominated Williams last year in Knoxville before he was forced to the bench with cramps.
After that game when asked about it, Williams said, “He shut me down, he was in my head a little bit.”
The Vols went on to win that game and Grant played well after Washington left the floor.
As big of a step as Williams has taken from last year to this year, you could argue that PJ Washington has made as big of a jump. This battle will be crucial in deciding the winner of Saturday’s game.
Completely shutting Williams down will be a next to impossible task, but limiting him has to be the goal. Eight times this season, he has scored 22+ points.
Holding Williams under his average will go a long way because the Vols have another powerful scoring option in Admiral Schofield, who is getting almost 17 points per game by himself. On Wednesday, Schofield dominated the Gamecocks with 21 points and 10 rebounds.
Both of them are strong, big bodied, and bring the experience to give the Cats trouble.
Bring “Braces Ashton Hagans” back
Prior to the LSU game, Hagans had been the pillar of consistency, maybe not in the way of filling up the stat sheet but just in terms of controlling game. He also had his braces come off Tuesday, then went on to have one of his worst games of the season.
There is no reason to sugar coat it, even while only shooting 3/13 from the field, Tremont Waters outplayed Hagans on Tuesday night in a game where the freshman point guard picked up two quick fouls and never looked comfortable from there.
Hagans failed to record a steal against LSU which was reflective of his overall play. It also revealed that Kentucky absolutely relies on Hagans to lead them to victory when they are up against a good team. Immanuel Quickley is a great backup option at point guard but Tuesday night proved that he is probably incapable of leading the Cats by himself.
Tennessee’s guard play is by committee, the Vols have three backcourt players who are averaging double-figures in scoring. Jordan Bone, Lamonte Turner, and Jordan Bowden will all be getting shots up in Rupp Arena on Saturday. Each one of them is shooting over 46% from the field.
Hagans must return to his old form and make things difficult on the backcourt of Tennessee.
Finish the last 8 minutes
In years past, before a huge game, Coach Calipari has requested that the Rupp Arena crowd not sit down after the under eight minute timeout in the second half. I wouldn’t be surprised if he communicates a similar request before Saturday, because chances are, this game will be decided in those final eight minutes.
After Tuesday’s loss, Coach Cal surprisingly shared some praise for his players determination and playmaking ability down the stretch that put Kentucky in a position to win. That being said, they didn’t win, and closing out a big game is something that the Cats will have to do against Tennessee. The idea of a being ahead a comfortable margin heading into the final minutes on Saturday is quite unrealistic.
Kentucky is now -22 points in the second half of their last two games against LSU and Mississippi State. UK was very lucky to to avoid a late game collapse and escape with a win in Starkville. Luck ran out on Tuesday as LSU outscored Kentucky 41-31 in the last 20 minutes of the game.
It will be a tall order to beat the No. 1 team in the nation without showing up in the second half. The Duke - Louisville game was great evidence of what a good team can do late in a game.
There will be no time for Kentucky to relax if they want to pull off an upset.
Players to watch:
Grant Williams: 19.4 ppg and 7.4 rpg
As noted earlier, Williams is one of the best scorers in the country, he is currently the leading scorer in the SEC. South Carolina kept him in check during their last game. But with Gameday in town you can count on Williams taking more than the eight shots he did against USC.
Admiral Schofield: 16.7 ppg and 6.4 rebounds
Not only does Scofield have one of the best names in all of college sports, he is also a dominant player who has developed an inside out game during his career at Tennessee. Now with 111 attempts he has taken by far the most three pointers of anyone on UT’s team. Kentucky’s big have to come to play in this one.
Jordan Bone 13.2 ppg and 6.6 apg
Bone’s 6.6 assist per game are good for first place in the SEC. He is obviously Tennessee’s main distributor but can also score the ball himself. If anybody is taking long range shots the Cats will want it to be Bone, he has only made 26/85 from long range this season.
Lamonte Turner 11.7 ppg
Turner can make shots from outside and is an offensive threat. This season he has three games with at least 19 points while making two or more three pointers in 11 out of 24 games. He had a three-game stretch against West Virginia, at Texas A&M and at South Carolina in which he scored 55 points on 21/31 shooting (9/17 from deep) with 15 assists and seven steals.
Jordan Bowden 11.5 ppg
Bowden marks the fifth player to average double figures for UT. He shoots the three at nearly 40% and also must be respected offensively. He’s coming off a 16-point outing on 6/13 shooting (4/6) from deep against South Carolina. There will be very little room for error with Kentucky’s defense.