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No. 15 Tennessee ascends into SEC showdown at No. 24 Kentucky

By Darrell Bird, The Sports Xchange
No. 15 Tennessee ascends into SEC showdown at No. 24 Kentucky
Coach John Calipari and his Kentucky Wildcats face the Tennessee Volunteers on Tuesday. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Old rivals heading in the opposite direction will reunite Tuesday night at Rupp Arena as Tennessee meets Kentucky in a battle for second place in the Southeastern Conference.

No. 15 Tennessee (17-5, 7-3) jumped three spots in the new Associated Press Top 25 poll after a 94-61 thrashing of Ole Miss on Saturday.

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No. 24 Kentucky (17-6, 6-4), meanwhile, plunged three spots after a dismal 69-60 loss at Missouri, also on Saturday.

Kentucky coach John Calipari loves what he sees in Tennessee, and wishes his young club was playing the same way.

"They are playing efficient on both ends of the court, offensively and defensively," Calipari said. "They are scoring because they are being efficient. They're not scoring just coming down and jacking balls."

The 94 points against Ole Miss was a season-high for Tennessee, winners of five straight games.

"We really worry about ourselves more than anything," Tennessee coach Rich Barnes said. "We are trying to perfect ourselves as a team. We know that we can't reach perfection, so we are always trying to progress and get better?"

It wasn't perfect, but the Volunteers did make 20 of its final 26 shots against Ole Miss and finished with 33 field goals and 27 assists.

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"Their assists to made baskets, that number is probably one of the tops in the country," Calipari said. "They'll have 25 assists on 30 made goals. That's great. That's team basketball. That's creating for each other. That is making the game easy for each other. That's what they do. But again, it's a team that has been together for a couple years."

"We are a very unselfish team," Barnes said. "We know that we have a lot of people that can do a lot of great things on offense. We can score in many different ways. It's no big deal for us to play hot potato out there and get the ball moving. Whoever has the best shot can take it."

Kentucky, by contrast, shot just 31.3 percent in its loss at Missouri, including 10 percent from 3-point range, 2-of-20. Kentucky had just nine assists on its 21 field goals.

"We just gotta play a little bit more competitive, a little bit more physical, locked in collectively. We're not," Calipari said. "It's one or two guys breaking down, and when you show it on tape it's really kind of like. Ouch, are you watching yourself here And so, you have to get five guys together doing it, and they're still learning."

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This will be the second meeting between Kentucky and Tennessee. On Jan. 6 in Knoxville, the Volunteers outscored UK 47-28 in the second half to erase an eight-point deficit and win going away 76-65.

Junior forward Admiral Schofield paced Tennessee with 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting. Sophomore forward Grant Williams added 18 as UT shot 55 percent in the second half.

For the season, Williams tops Tennessee at 16.2 points per game. Schofield is next at 12.5 followed by sophomore guard Lamonte Turner at 10.7 and sophomore guard Jordan Bowden at 9.7.

Kentucky has four players averaging in double figures led by forward Kevin Knox at 15.1. Next comes guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, 12.7; guard Hamidou Diallo, 12.0; and forward PJ Washington, 10.3. All four are freshmen.

"The biggest thing is, as a coach, you cannot enable them to create excuses for their performance," Calipari said. "The way you are playing is no one else's responsibility but yours. You can't put it on teammates, coaches, fans, nothing. You have to own your performance. Hard for young guys. That's a hard one. The only way is you just keep watching tape and learning and hope at some point it clicks on how we play."

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