Tennessee looks to stay near the top of the SEC basketball standings when the 19th-ranked Volunteers host Kentucky on Saturday afternoon in Knoxville, Tenn.
The Volunteers recorded their third win in the past four games with Wednesday’s 93-73 victory over South Carolina. Guard Victor Bailey Jr. led the way with 29 points, making 7 of 10 3-point shots.
Tennessee (15-5 overall, 8-5 in SEC) got 19 points from forward John Fulkerson and 16 from Jaden Springer in the win.
Bailey, a junior who transferred from Oregon, started the first eight games of the season before coming off the bench for every game until Wednesday. Back in as a starter, he had season highs in points, field goals made and attempted and assists with four.
“It felt great. It’s always good to see some shots fall. My teammates were hyping me up. Coach (Rick Barnes) was telling me to shoot it. It always feels good to see some balls go in the hoop,” Bailey said. “I’ve just been trying to stay resilient and stay focused on my work. My teammates have had my back through the whole thing. It’s tough when you try to put the work in and don’t see the results, but you have to keep pushing and keep fighting, and when you have a group of guys like I do, it makes it a lot easier.”
The Vols have beaten the Wildcats once already this season, 82-71 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., on Feb. 6. Keon Johnson’s 27 points led Tennessee that day, with Springer adding 23.
Springer, Bailey, Fulkerson and Johnson all average in double figures for the Volunteers. Tennessee is 12-2 at home this season and is outscoring opponents by an average of 11.6 points per game.
Kentucky (7-13, 6-7) has won back-to-back games after a four-game losing streak, but the Wildcats are in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013.
Kentucky is coming off an 82-78 win at Vanderbilt on Wednesday. Davion Mintz led the Wildcats with 18 points and tied his season high with four 3-pointers.
Jacob Toppin had a career-high 16 points, including four made free throws in the final 30 seconds of a close game.
Head coach John Calipari is seeing signs of his team coming together in what has been a vastly disappointing season considering Kentucky’s tradition of basketball excellence.
“They’re building their own confidence together. They’re finally becoming a team. But there are points in the game where guys have got to do what they do,” Calipari said. “And we’re learning to be a better team. All I’m trying to tell you is, let’s have individual players be at their best; let’s have this team coming together.”
Kentucky leads the overall series with Tennessee 156-75, but Tennessee has won the last two meetings and six of the last nine. Calipari is 17-13 in his coaching career against the Volunteers.
Kentucky is 0-5 against Top 25 opponents this season.
–Field Level Media