SEC Showdown

Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl called last season's loss at Kentucky one of the worst of his tenure with the Volunteers - but a defeat at Rupp Arena this time around could be much more disappointing.

The third-ranked Vols will be trying to establish the best start in team history on Tuesday when they visit the Wildcats.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Tennessee -5 point spread favorites (View College Basketball odds) for today’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 95% of bets for this game have been placed on Tennessee -5 (View College Basketball bet percentages).

Tennessee is off to just the second 16-1 start in school history, matching the 2000-01 team. The Volunteers have won 11 straight since falling 97-78 to then-No. 15 Texas on Nov. 24 for their longest winning streak since the start of the 1999-2000 season.

Tennessee, which has not won 12 in a row since Dec. 11, 1976 - Jan. 30, 1977, was rewarded with its highest-ever ranking in Monday's top 25 poll.

The Volunteers are 3-0 in the SEC for the first time since 2000-01 and are trying for their first 4-0 league start since '81-82. To do that, however, they will have to win at Rupp Arena - "a place where last year we suffered one of the worst defeats in the few years that I've been here," said Pearl, in his third season as Tennessee's coach.

The Wildcats (7-9, 1-2) beat the Vols 76-57 on Jan. 28, 2007 for their 10th win in 11 games in the series and seventh in eight games in Lexington. However, Tennessee was without Chris Lofton in that game and managed an 89-85 win in Knoxville on Feb. 13 behind 23 points from their star guard.

"The fact that we get to go to Rupp and play on ESPN is tremendous," Pearl said of Tuesday's nationally televised contest. "But it's our job to take advantage of it. We've got to be able to prove that we can play on the road and in front of a television audience."

The Vols are coming off Saturday's 74-69 win over Ohio State - the team that beat them in last year's NCAA tournament regional semifinal. JaJuan Smith, who leads the team with 14.8 points per game, scored 15 and Lofton chipped in 13.

"You try to get it out of your mind, but that's all you can really think about because you remember they ruined your summer. They ruined your season," Lofton said.

Tennessee, whose streak includes wins over Vanderbilt and Mississippi, ranks fifth in the nation with 85.6 points per game and first with 20.2 assists per contest. The Vols' bench outscored Ohio State's reserves 26-0.

"They have great depth," Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie said. "They have a very good roster. It is a very complete roster and they have good players at every position. They have back-ups at each position that are very capable. That?s why they are so highly ranked and won most of their games."

The Wildcats, meanwhile, have dropped eight of 11 under first-year coach Gillispie, including an 81-70 overtime loss at Florida on Saturday. Still, Pearl said he isn't taking Kentucky lightly.

"I don't look at the coaching matchups as much as I do the school matchups. It's Tennessee versus Kentucky regardless of who's coaching," Pearl said. "This is a much more confident Kentucky team than it was a few weeks ago. And the kids are playing to their strengths now."

Ramel Bradley hit a game-tying 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds to play to send the game into overtime and led Kentucky with 23 points - his sixth straight game with at least 20. Freshman Patrick Patterson, who leads the team with 16.6 points per game, added 15.

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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