Kentucky seeks to avenge loss to Tennessee

LEXINGTON, Ky. — On Jan. 24, Tennessee defeated Kentucky 82-80 in Knoxville, handing the Wildcats their first loss in Southeastern Conference play. But Vols coach Rick Barnes knows it will be a much different story when the rematch is held Tuesday in Lexington.

“We talked about it with the team yesterday,” Barnes said Monday. “When we won here we were coming off a good win against Mississippi State and we were at home. Now we’re coming off a tough loss and we’re on the road. So our mindset is really important, being able to get on to the next game.”

Tennessee is reeling from Saturday’s 76-75 loss to Georgia, blowing a 14-point lead at Thompson-Boling Arena. It’s been a disheartening trend as the Volunteers held leads of 19, 15, 13 and 13 only to lose to Mississippi State, North Carolina, Arkansas and Ole Miss, respectively.

“Win or lose, you have to let it go this time of year and get ready for the next game,” Barnes said. “Hopefully, we’ll do that. Our players know full well what we have to do to compete at the level we need to compete at in Lexington.”

No. 13 Kentucky, likewise, is trying to find its way. The Tennessee loss sent the Wildcats into a skid in which they lost three of the next four games. Overall, Kentucky is 3-3 since that upset, but in two of those victories they have blown 20-point leads in the final eight minutes.

“I think it’s as much technical as it is mental,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “They gotta have a plan. OK, you’re up 18, here’s how we play. They don’t know.”

Calipari said he has some ideas on how to attack the issue, but wasn’t offering details with Tennessee coming to town.

“Just learning how to play in situational basketball,” Calipari said. “When you think about it, the team we had in 2012, we were fast. This team could be faster. But how did we play in the championship game? What was the final score? 67-59. That game was in the low 60s because we had to be in the low 60s to win the game. I didn’t like it, I said, ‘Slow down, let’s just play and grind these dudes a little bit.’ You’ve got to be able to do both.

“But our speed is a weapon and you’ve got to use your weapons. You’ve got to use open-court driving to get to the rim. You know, we’re a good 3-point shooting team, use your weapons. Yet, you’re going to play somebody that makes you play halfcourt. You’ve got to be able to do it. A lot of our issues are situational.”

Kentucky (20-5, 10-2 SEC) hosts Tennessee (14-11, 6-6) at 7 p.m. at Rupp Arena. Barnes is wondering aloud if the Wildcats might try to replicate Georgia’s success as guard J.J. Frazier torched Tennessee for 20 of his 29 points in the second-half comeback.

“I’m sure they’re looking at the tape seeing what J.J. Frazier did to us off ball screens and thinking they can do the same thing,” Barnes said. “But they have a number of players that can take over a game.

“Malik Monk leads the SEC in scoring, De’Aaron Fox leads the SEC in assists,” Barnes said. “You saw what Bam Adebayo did to us here, I think he had four or five dunks. Isaiah Briscoe is one of the great competitors you’ll play against. So they have a number of guys who can have spectacular nights against you.”