BIG BLUE FANS FOR
About a month ago, the Cats strutted into Tennessee's Thompson-Boling Arena with a 12-2, 2-0 record, fresh off a road win at LSU. Tennessee stepped on their home court that night having lost their first two SEC games including a 10-point home loss to Auburn four days earlier. The stakes on the line in that game were huge for the Volunteers because a second conference home loss to contenders would effectively knock Tennessee out of this season's SEC championship race. However, the game presented great opportunity for the Cats rather than risks because a second SEC road win would have propelled the Cats into a very strong leadership position for this year's conference crown.
As I recall, everyone and his brother knew Tennessee would lay it all on the line, and the big question in the lead up to this game is whether the young Cats could respond in kind. The Cats came out of the gates in the first half and led most of the half by 3 to 9 points, and returned to the locker room leading by 8 points, 37-29. The second half was all Tennessee. They only needed 2:25 to tie the score at 39-39, and after playing close to the under 12 media timeout, the Cats fell behind by 10, 60-50, and never got back into the game. Tennessee saved its season and the Cats limped back to Rupp trying to understand why they failed to secure the road win in Knoxville.
Since that encounter on January 6, each team has played 8 games. Tennessee has won 7 times, losing at Missouri by 2 points and beating Vanderbilt twice, Texas A&M, at South Carolina, at Iowa State, and LSU and Mississippi in Knoxville. The last three victories have been by 23, 23, and 33 points respectively. The Cats have won 5 and lost 3 times since losing at Tennessee. Tennessee has played itself into sole possession of 2 nd place in the SEC race, chasing Auburn and Kentucky is in a struggle to secure one of the four double byes for the SEC Tournament with Florida, Alabama, Missouri, and Mississippi State.
As these same two teams prepare for their rematch at Rupp Arena on Tuesday, the tables have turned. Kentucky has one home loss to a contender (Florida) and a second home loss to Tennessee will all but close the book on this year's SEC race for the Cats even if Auburn should experience a complete collapse down the stretch. Tennessee on the other hand can move its hopes of catching Auburn up a couple of notches with a road win over the Cats.
The seminal question a month ago was whether the Cats would match the Volunteers intensity. Unfortunately, these tables have not turned, and the question for this rematch again focuses on the Cats' willingness to leave it all on the floor, between the lines of Rupp Arena to knock off Tennessee.
Following the West Virginia game when it still seemed possible that this team would actually turn the corner, I cautioned that the answer to this riddle must wait for the results of the next three games and suggested the following criteria:
The Cats failed the first two of these three tests, and I do not believe anything short of a double digit win over a very strong Tennessee tea will salvage a passing grade for test #3.
Tennessee's 17-5, 7-3 record has produced an ANE of 0.261 ppp (#8) by playing a schedule with a strength of 0.102 ppp (#3). The Cats' 17-6, 6-4 record has produced an ANE of 0.178 ppp (#36) by playing a schedule with a strength of 0.090 ppp (#12). The ANE analysis gives the edge to Tennessee, despite the Cats' home court advantage, of 1 point, 73-72, in a game played at a pace of 72 possessions. Pomeroy has the Tennessee favored by 1, 71-70 with a pace of 67 possessions. Vegas opened today with Kentucky a 1 1/2 point favorite.
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Coach Calipari will start Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nick Richards, Kevin Knox, Wenyen Gabriel, and Hamidou Diallo. PJ Washington sustained a knee injury in the West Virginia game, and is not in the starting lineup tonight. Jarred Vanderbilt, Quade Green, Sacha Killeya-Jones. Coach Calipari has reported that Tai Wynyard will not return to action this season.
The Kentucky controls the opening tip and fail to score when Nick Richards' shot on the baseline does not draw iron, and after 2 offensive rebounds, and a Tennessee turnover following a loose ball scrum. The Cats do get on the board first when Nick Richards made 1 of 2 free throws, but Tennessee moved on top 4-1 on a basket off a turnover and a second chance basket. The Cats tied the score at 4-4 on a 3 pointer by Quade Green prior to the under 16 media timeout. In the second segment, the Cats fail to make a field goal, only getting one shot at the basket and turning the ball over 3 times. Their 4-4 shooting from the line allowed them to basically keep pace with Tennessee, who moves into a 1 point lead, 9-8, at the under 12 media timeout, and Tennessee has the ball.
In the third segment, the Cats move into a 3 point lead, 12-9 on a free throw and Quade Green's second 3 pointer, but Tennessee tied the Cats at 12-12 at the under 8 media timeout, and the Volunteers have the ball. In the fourth segment, Tennessee moves out to a 3 point lead, 17-14, but the Cat go on a 8-2 run forcing a Tennessee timeout with 2:51 remaining and the Cats on top by 3, 22-19. Tennessee has the ball.
After the timeout, Tennessee makes a basket on a fall away jump shot and following a missed 3 pointer at the Kentucky end, Tennessee makes a 3 pointer to move back into the lead, 24-22, and Coach Calipari takes a timeout with 59 seconds left in the first half. After the timeout, the Cats get a pair of baskets, one by Nick Richards on a lob dunk, and the other a jump shot by Quade Green at the buzzer. However, Tennessee makes another 3 pointer and takes a 1 point lead, 27-26 to the locker room.
The Cats scored 26 points on 31 possessions, 0.839 points per possession, and TENNESSEE managed their 27 points on 31 possessions, 0.871 ppp. The Cats made 38.1% (8-21) of their first half shots, including 3-9 from outside the arc. TENNESSEE managed to make 38.5% (10-26) of their first half shots, including 3-11 from outside the arc.
The Cats committed 8 turnovers in the first half while TENNESSEE committed 6 turnovers.
The Cats made 7-10 from the line (70.0%) and TENNESSEE made 4-6 from the line (66.7%).
On the Boards, each team grabbed 16 rebounds and Tennessee won the rebounding battle on the offensive glass 4-3. Tennessee converted its 4 second chance possessions into 6 second chance points while the Cats got 3 second chance points from its 3 offensive rebounds. The Cats secured 20.0% of their misses and allowed TENNESSEE to grab 23.5% of their misses as second chance opportunities.
Kentucky opens the second half with a turnover, and Tennessee moves up by 3, 29-26. The Cats score the next 4 points to move back on top by 1, 30-29, and after an exchange of baskets with the Cats up 32-31, Tennessee scores the next 4 to finish the opening segment up 3, 35-32 at the under 16 media timeout, and Kentucky has the ball. After the timeout, the Cats get a 3 point play by Kevin Knox, his first points of the game, to tie the score. After the Cats make 1 of 2 from the line, Quade Green makes a layup to lift the Cats on top by 3 at the under 12 media timeout, and Tennessee will be at the line for a pair of free throws.
In an extended third segment, the teams traded baskets after Tennessee tied the score and moved back on top by 2 points. At the under 8 media timeout, Tennessee leads by 2, 48-46, and the Cats have the ball. In a short fourth segment, Tennessee moves out to the largest lead of the game by either team, 4 points, 50-46. The Cats get a pair of free throws by PJ Washington, and after Jarred Vanderbilt makes a steal, he completes the fast break with a put back basket to tie the score, 50-50. Tennessee takes a timeout with 3:30 remaining in the game.
After the timeout, Tennessee commits a turnover, and Kevin Knox takes the steal the full length of the court for a 3 point play with 3:10. Tennessee makes a pair of free throws to trim the lead to 1 point, 53-52. The teams battle back and forth to the last minute, when the Cats lead by 2, 58-56. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander commits back to back turnovers, and Tennessee makes them pay first with a 3 pointer for the 1 point Tennessee lead, and then a layup to lead by 3 with only 4 seconds left. When the Cats try to get off a potential game tieing 3 point shot, Tennessee fouls ahead of the shot, sending Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to the line for a pair of shots with 0.8 seconds left in the game.
The Cats fall to Tennessee by 2, 61-59.
UK scored its 59 points on 65 possessions (0.908 ppp) for the game, and TENNESSEE scored its 61 points on 64 possessions (0.953 ppp).
Tennessee won the battle of the boards, with a rebounding edge 32-30, and Tennessee controlled the offensive glass 8-7. Kentucky used its 7 second chance possessions to score 7 second chance points, and TENNESSEE used its 8 second chance possessions to score 8 second chance points. TENNESSEE had an offensive efficiency of 0.828 ppp on its 64 first chance possessions and 1.000 ppp for its 8 second chance possessions. UK had 0.800 ppp on its 65 first chance possessions and 1.000 ppp on its 7 second chance possessions. With respect to the offensive rebounding, UK grabbed 22.6% of its misses as offensive rebounds while TENNESSEE was able to convert 25.8% of its misses into bonus possessions with offensive rebounds.
UK made 18-25 (72.0%) from the free throw line in this game. TENNESSEE made 12-14 [85.7%] for the game. Field goal shooting for UK was 19-45 overall [42.2%] and 3-14 from long range [21.4%]. For Tennessee, their field goal shooting from inside the arc was a strong 17-31 [54.8%] and from long range, TENNESSEE hit 5-21 [23.8%].
The Cats committed 15 turnovers, one for every 4.3 possessions. The Cats forced 13 TENNESSEE turnovers, one for every 4.9 possessions.
Next Game On Schedule: Saturday evening at Texas A&M at 8:15 pm for the 25 th game of the season and the 12 th SEC game of 2018
Submitted by Richard Cheeks
Submitted by Richard Cheeks