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Feb 2, 2024 3:38 am

No. 5 Vols, No. 10 Kentucky enter showdown off losses

Both No. 5 Tennessee and No. 10 Kentucky are looking to rebound from losses when they engage in a Southeastern Conference showdown on Saturday night in Lexington, Ky.

The Wildcats (15-5, 5-3 SEC) have split their past six contests after their latest setback, while the Volunteers had a four-game winning streak halted.

Tennessee lost 63-59 to visiting South Carolina on Tuesday, prompting coach Rick Barnes to critique his club’s lack of focus.

Barnes said the performance will need to be vastly improved against Kentucky.

“I’ve been doing this so long, I’m not surprised by anything,” the 69-year-old coach said. “We’ll find out what we’re made of. Obviously, it’s not gonna get any easier.

“I don’t care if you’re going to Kentucky or anywhere else in this league, you got to be ready to play at home or on the road.”

Wildcats coach John Calipari also isn’t in a good mood. His team had a four-point lead with less than 20 seconds left in regulation and eventually lost 94-91 in overtime to visiting Florida on Wednesday.

The Gators used an 8-0 burst in overtime to seize control.

“This was a fun game to watch,” Calipari said afterward. “It was not a fun game to coach. But to watch the game and how the guys went at each other and a wide-open kind of game and they broke us down.”

The Wildcats were thin in the backcourt as guards D.J. Wagner (ankle) and Justin Edwards (knee) missed the Florida contest. Wagner averages 12 points per game and Edwards checks in at 7.7.

Calipari was unsure if either player would be ready to go against Tennessee.

“I don’t know about if we will have a full roster,” Calipari said, “but you know, we have got no choice. They are coming in. They’re really good. They’re really a veteran (squad). They have got a couple guys that can just break you down and score.”

Kentucky will attempt to swarm Tennessee star Dalton Knecht, who has scored 25 or more points in six straight games. He is averaging 31.8 points during the stretch — topping 30 four times — to raise his season mark to 20.1.

Knecht was 11 of 24 (45.8 percent) from the field against South Carolina after making more than 55 percent of his shots in four of the previous five games. But Barnes was more dismayed that the Northern Colorado transfer is just 9 of 17 from the free-throw line over the past two games.

“I think we know what to do is get him the ball, that he’s proven he can go,” Barnes said of Knecht. “I mean, look at his numbers. … Dalton hasn’t done a good job on the free-throw line in the last two games.”

Jonas Aidoo is the only other Tennessee player averaging in double digits (11.6). Aidoo leads the Volunteers in rebounding (7.4 average) and blocked shots (36).

Tennessee’s Santiago Vescovi is tied for eighth place in SEC history with 311 career 3-pointers. He is tied with former Alabama star John Petty (2017-21).

Antonio Reeves leads Kentucky with a 19.5 scoring average.

Fourth-leading scorer Reed Sheppard (12.1) moved into the starting lineup against Florida and had a solid all-around game with 24 points, eight rebounds and six assists.

Sheppard knew his team let a win get away, but he was focused on the big picture.

“Every team in the SEC is really, really good,” Sheppard said. “It’s hard to win SEC games home and away. It doesn’t matter. We’ll keep getting better … with late-game situations on what to do. … We’ll learn from it and we’ll keep getting better.”

Kentucky has won four of its past six meetings with Tennessee, including both matchups last season.

–Field Level Media

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