Both teams will be seeking consistency when No. 11 Tennessee meets Kentucky in Lexington on Saturday night in the first of two meetings between the longtime Southeastern Conference rivals this month.
Just three days after blistering then-No. 15 Kansas last weekend, the Volunteers (12-4, 5-4 SEC) lost 52-50 to Ole Miss, which had lost five of its previous seven games, including three by double digits.
The Wildcats (5-11, 4-5) have lost five of their last six games after starting their SEC season at 3-0. Since defeating LSU 82-69 on Jan. 23, they have lost 70-59 at SEC leader Alabama, which is now ranked 10th in the nation; had their scheduled meeting at No. 5 Texas for the SEC-Big 12 Challenge canceled, and lost again 75-70 at No. 18 Missouri earlier this week.
Another defeat would saddle the Wildcats with their most losses under coach John Calipari since his 2012-13 team was 21-12.
The Wildcats have been without five-star freshman Terrence Clarke for nine games due to an ankle, and they aren’t sure if he will be available this weekend. He didn’t make the trip to Missouri.
“If he can’t practice, without limping, Thursday and Friday, then he won’t play Saturday,” Calipari said. “And we just keep him out and we’ll see where this thing goes.”
Clarke averaged 10.7 points and three rebounds in his seven appearances.
“They’re still Kentucky,” Tennessee assistant coach Desmond Oliver in handling the pregame press briefing for coach Rick Barnes. “No one is going in there thinking that because of their record or whatever that they’re not a team that can go out there and blow you out and beat you pretty badly.”
At Missouri, the Wildcats rallied from a 13-point halftime deficit to within three points, 68-65, with 4:53 remaining and still were within four at 74-70 with 1:17 on the clock. But they missed their last three shots in the final minute, including a couple of layups.
“It’s not like we didn’t play in the last four minutes,” Calipari said. “We knew what we were doing. We were playing, we defended, we just, again, turned it over — 17 turnovers, you’re not going to win a game like this.”
Barnes also lamented mistakes in his Volunteers’ loss at Ole Miss. They had 16 turnovers, which compounded the troubles they had shooting the ball – 35.6 percent for the game and 10 of 16 on free throws.
“We had just some horrendous turnovers,” Barnes said. “When you add that to the fact that we missed some shots that I like to think we can make around the rim, and you add that to the fact that with missing the front end of some one-and-ones on free throws, it makes for a long night. That’s the disappointing part of it.”
Their inconsistent play has been an issue all season, Barnes said, not just recently.
Last month the Volunteers spanked Vanderbilt by 20 points in Knoxville, then went to Florida and lost by 26 before losing at home to Missouri by nine.
Tennessee has only two players, John Fulkerson (11) and Victor Bailey Jr. (10.4), averaging in double figures in scoring.
“The thing we look for all year is just consistency,” Barnes said. “And we just don’t seem to get it enough the way we need to.”
The teams will meet again in two weeks in Knoxville.
–Field Level Media