Vols aiming for rare regular-season basketball sweep of Kentucky

Vols aiming for rare regular-season basketball sweep of Kentucky

February 5th, 2018 by David Cobb in Breaking News

Tennessee guard Jordan Bowden (23), Jordan Bone (0), Kyle Alexander (11) and Derrick Walker (15) celebrate a basket by a teammate in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Mississippi on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Crystal LoGiudice)

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

Tennessee forwards Derrick Walker (15) and Admiral Schofield celebrate a basket during Wednesday night's home win against LSU. The host Vols improved to 16-5 overall and 6-3 in the SEC with the 84-61 victory.

Tennessee forwards Derrick Walker (15) and Admiral Schofield...

Photo by Crystal LoGiudice

KNOXVILLE — The Tennessee men's basketball team was in this same situation a year ago after knocking off Kentucky at home in January.

A return trip to Lexington came in February, presenting the Volunteers with a chance to earn their first win at Rupp Arena since 2006 and their first season sweep of the Wildcats since 1999.

Those dreams quickly vanished in a sea of blue. Kentucky won 83-58 in front of 24,391 fans.

"Honestly, we had a lot of guys that were just scared, guys that had never been in that environment," Tennessee junior forward Admiral Schofield said. "It really showed."

The 15th-ranked Vols (17-5, 7-3 SEC) get a chance Tuesday night to show how much they have changed when they take on the No. 24 Wildcats (17-6, 6-4) at 7 at Rupp Arena.

Tennessee finished the 2016-17 season 5-11 in games away from Thompson-Boling Arena. This year's Vols are 7-3 away from home, including 5-2 in true road games. None of those road games have come in an atmosphere quite like Rupp Arena, however.

By Kentucky's lofty standards, it's been a rough year. Still, the Wildcats lead the nation in average home attendance. After Saturday's loss at Missouri, Kentucky coach John Calipari posted a message to Twitter on Sunday imploring the fans to "be at your best from tip to finish" for the Tennessee game.

"We're expecting a pretty good atmosphere," Tennessee junior center Kyle Alexander said. "They're coming off a loss, so this is one game that they're going to want to get, since we beat them here. I'm expecting a very intense atmosphere."

Tennessee torched a Kentucky zone defense in the second half of the first meeting and won 76-65. It was the beginning of a streak of eight wins in nine games for the Vols. Calipari said Kentucky simply was out-toughed in that matchup.

"This is a chance for us to go out there and solidify who we are and build our brand of basketball," Kentucky sophomore forward Sacha Killeya-Jones said Monday, "and really just improve on what was a bad loss the first time and try and come out here and try to somewhat erase that."

For the Vols it's a chance at history — freshman forward Yves Pons was not born the last time Tennessee swept Kentucky — and another chance to show they've grown from the appearance of being scared of a game like this just a year ago.

"This year, I mean we've got guys that really believe in their worth, and we know that we've put our trust in each other," Schofield said. "We don't worry about the scene or who we're going against. it's really just going out and doing what we practice every day. That's competing, being physical, defending and rebounding. The biggest thing for us is just for us to worry about what we do."


The Vols climbed from 18th to 15th in the Associated Press poll Monday and to 14th in the coaches' poll, and they received some favorable placements in the most recent NCAA tournament projections.

CBS Sports slotted Tennessee as a 3-seed in the East Regional playing a first-round game against College of Charleston in Nashville. ESPN projected Tennessee as the Midwest Regional 4-seed opening against Buffalo in Wichita. According to ESPN, Tennessee has a 7.9 percent chance of making the Final Four.

USA Today projected Tennessee as the South Regional 3-seed facing Belmont in Nashville, and NBC Sports listed the Vols as the Midwest 4-seed playing Belmont in Boise, Idaho.

Contact David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @DavidWCobb and on Facebook at facebook.com/volsupdate.

This story was updated Feb. 5, 2018, at 10:22 p.m.