Preview: Vols to face top-ranked Kentucky, looking for upset

After a tough Valentine’s Day loss to LSU, the basketball Vols are looking for redemption through an upset of the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats at Thompson-Boling Arena in a Big Tuesday match-up.

After a tough Valentine’s Day loss to LSU, the basketball Vols are looking for redemption through an upset of the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats at Thompson-Boling Arena in a Big Tuesday match-up.

It has been over a year since these two teams went face-to-face on the hardwood. The last time they met, the Wildcats took the win at Rupp Arena, 74-66. Jarnell Stokes played a big part in the game for the Vols – scoring 20 points and gaining 15 rebounds. For Kentucky, it was then-freshman Andrew Harrison who led the Wildcats in scoring with 26 points.

Harrison is back again this season for Kentucky and is looking to turn his lackluster season around. With a few key players from last year gone, there are two questions that Tennessee faces going into Tuesday: Who will step up to lead and what will it take to contain Kentucky?

Tennessee (14-10, 6-6) comes into this game after suffering a home loss to a hungry LSU squad on Saturday, 73-55. Armani Moore led the Vols with 16 points and 8 rebounds. After seeing their team have a major momentum surge at the beginning of the second half against LSU, Vol fans will be looking to have that same spark show up, and hopefully stay, in Tuesday’s game.

Kentucky (25-0, 12-0), on the other hand, comes into Tuesday with a “full steam ahead” mentality as they continue their pursuit of perfection. They beat South Carolina on Saturday, 77-43. Willie Cauley-Stein led the Wildcats in scoring with 14 points, while two other players, Aaron Harrison and Dakari Johnson, were in double digits – scoring 11 and 10 points respectively.

Kentucky has been dominant all season. While they have had a few close wins, including overtime and double overtime wins that came back-to-back at the beginning of SEC play, they have still found a way to remain undefeated.

It is no surprise that Kentucky has an amazing amount of talent that knows how to score, no matter what the cost. Apart from their talent, they have size and they have a lot of it: two seven-footers and eight players ranging in size from 6’6” to 6’11”. Of course, this size will help them in the paint going against a Tennessee squad that no longer has an immense amount of size in comparison to the past few years.

For Tennessee, the key to beating Kentucky is simple: stop them from shooting. If there is one shooter they need to key in on, it is Devin Booker. The 6’6” freshman guard has played a huge role for the Wildcats this year averaging almost 11 points per game while shooting 47 percent from three-point range, the highest three-point percentage on the team.

In terms of match ups, Booker could be facing Josh Richardson, who has recorded 51 steals and 12 blocks on the year. The other hot shooter to look out for is Aaron Harrison, the 6’6” sophomore guard, who has averaged 11 points per game this season. Once he and Booker get their shots flowing, it will be hard to contain them. The same goes for plays in the paint. For these, expect to see Willie Cauley-Stein make splashes, since he is seven feet tall and will take any route possible to score on a smaller defense, such as Tennessee’s.

For Tennessee, it all comes down to containing Kentucky, forcing them to make minimal shots and not letting them slide into the paint for easy baskets. Size cannot be an intimidation factor. If the Vols want to regain a solid spot in the SEC and possibly in NCAA play, this game will be crucial in doing so.

The game will be aired on ESPN as part of Big Tuesday. Tip-off is at 7 p.m.

Edited by Cody McClure