Wednesday, February 14, 2001

UK aims to end Tennessee home streak

The Associated Press

        KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Home sweet home, the Tennessee Volunteers hope. Tennessee's loss at Kentucky last month started a string of five Southeastern Conference losses on the road. The teams meet again at 8 p.m. today in Knoxville, where the Vols have won 18 straight games since last season and two in a row over the Wildcats.

  • When: 8 p.m. today.
  • Where: Thompson-Boling Arena (24,535), Knoxville, Tenn.
  • Records: Kentucky 15-7 (8-2 Southeastern Conference); Tennessee 18-6 (5-5 SEC).
  • TV: Ch.25.
  • Radio: WSAI-AM (1530).
  Tayshaun Prince -6-9-Jr.-15.3
  Jason Parker -6-8-Fr.-8.4
  Gerald Fitch -6-3-Fr.-5.7
  Saul Smith -6-2-Sr.-6.8
  Keith Bogans -6-5-So.-15.9
  Coach: Tubby Smith (101-30, fourth season; 225-92 overall)
Vincent Yarbrough -6-7-Jr.-13.6
Isiah Victor -6-9-Sr.-14.0
Charles Hathaway-6-10-Sr.-5.7
Jon Higgins -6-3-So.-6.9
  Jenis Grindstaff -6-2-Jr.-3.1
  Coach: Jerry Green (85-31, fourth season; 307-209 overall)
  • 128-61: UK's lead in the series.
  • 84-74: Score of UK's win in the teams' last meeting, Jan.16, in Rupp Arena.
  • 42: Points UK scored in the paint vs. the Vols last month.
        Afterward, Tennessee remains at home for Florida and Georgia, two teams that beat the Vols on their home courts.

        “We've been to Florida, Georgia and Kentucky, some pretty hostile places to play. I think that is probably one of the best things to happen to us — having a home stretch of three or four games in a row,” Tennessee forward Vincent Yarbrough said.

        Any win will help Tennessee. Since Kentucky's 84-74 win Jan.16, the teams have been moving in different directions, particularly after Tennessee point guard Tony Harris suffered two injuries.

        Tennessee (18-6, 5-5 SEC), which slipped from No.4 in the Associated Press Top 25 Jan.16 to No.15 this week, has won just one of its last five games. That lone win was against Vanderbilt in Thompson-Boling Arena Feb.3.

        Before losing at Kentucky, the Vols rebounded from a sound beating by Virginia to win at Syracuse, defeat Iowa in the Rainbow Classic and win at Auburn in double overtime.

        “I'm concerned of getting every ounce out of this team with what we've got that I can get out of it,” Tennessee coach Jerry Green said. “And I thought we had that thing rolling so good early, and now it seems like we take part in the loss by helping the other team.”

        Kentucky (15-7, 8-2), which returned to the Top 25 this week at No.22, is on a five-game winning streak and leads the East and overall SEC standings.

        “We're getting good bal ance throughout our lineup. Our bench has been excellent,” Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. “Our kids are starting to mature and understand how they have to play and the level of intensity they have to play at each game out.”

        The Vols have been plagued by poor defense, rebounding, turnovers, bad shots and injuries.

        Harris, who sprained his wrist earlier this month and then suffered a sprained ankle at Arkansas, missed Tennessee's last game, an 87-71 loss at Mississippi. His status for the Kentucky game is doubtful; he didn't practice Monday.

        “We prepare absolutely that he is not going to play. Then if he is, that's a good kick. If he's not able to, we keep going on,” Green said.

        Though Harris has suffered from inconsistency as much as his teammates, the Vols miss him when he's out.

        “It hurts us a lot. We're missing his good points — his assists, his defense. He's a vocal leader on the team,” Yarbrough said.

        The one thing going for Tennessee is homecourt advantage, and the Wildcats believe the Vols' recent struggles could fade quickly in front of the home crowd.

        “They should be playing better than they are, and I'm sure they know that. They're going to come out battling, and that's certainly not going to make it any easier on us,” Kentucky reserve guard J.P. Blevins said.

        None of the Vols seems to know why their play has suffered on the road lately.

        “The key to winning is defense. I think on the road we've had trouble doing that. We don't seem to have that problem at home,” Tennessee guard Jon Higgins said.

        Better defense would have helped at Rupp Arena last month. The Wildcats scored 42 points in the paint, and the Vols couldn't shut down Keith Bogans or Tayshaun Prince.

        “We didn't play well up there and still had a chance to win. All eyes are on us to play better than we played up there,” Higgins said. “When they come down here, they should see a different Tennessee team on the floor.”

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