While Kentucky blew a chance to knock off the nation’s No. 1 team in its last game, the 20th-ranked Wildcats can’t afford to dwell too long on the loss.
Kentucky visits Tennessee on Tuesday, with the Volunteers calling it their biggest game of the season.
The Wildcats lost 64-61 to No. 1 Florida on Saturday, missing a chance to tie the game at the buzzer when Ramel Bradley missed a 3-point attempt. Bradley had made consecutive 3-pointers in the final 20 seconds to cut Kentucky’s deficit, but the Wildcats (18-6, 7-3 SEC) came up short, snapping a three-game winning streak.
Now, the Wildcats head off to Knoxville, where the Volunteers are hungry for a rivalry victory. Kentucky beat Tennessee 76-57 at home on Jan. 28, outscoring the Vols 45-25 in the second half, and is looking to sweep the season series for the fourth time in five seasons.
“I think we put it out of our mind (the loss to Florida) and we just have to get ready for Tennessee,” said Bradley, who had 21 points in January’s victory and has scored 20 in four consecutive games overall, the first Kentucky player since Keith Bogans in 2002-03 to accomplish that feat. “It’s tough to lose a game at home, missing shots and knowing that you could have won the game, but you just have to move on.”
Chris Lofton, the SEC’s leading scorer at 20.6 points per game, missed the Volunteers’ loss to Kentucky with a sprained ankle, but he’s back and Tennessee (17-8, 5-5) has won its last two games after losing six of eight.
“With Lofton back they’re playing with a lot of confidence. It’ll be a tough task for us. We played well here against Tennessee, but they didn’t have Chris Lofton,” Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said.
The Volunteers beat LSU and then-No. 23 Vanderbilt last week to improve to 13-0 at home this season. Tennessee’s last loss at Thompson-Boling Arena came to Kentucky in its final regular-season home game of 2005-06, an 80-78 defeat. The Volunteers won in Lexington on Feb. 7, 2006, coach Bruce Pearl’s first game against the Wildcats, but Kentucky has won its last four visits to Knoxville.
“One of the things we talked about when I got here is if rivalries are really going to be rivalries - whether they be with Vanderbilt or Kentucky - you actually have to occasionally beat them,” Pearl said. “We’ve only managed to do it one time since I’ve been here.”
Tennessee is retiring the jersey of Bernard King at halftime and urging fans to wear orange, with Pearl decked out in his trademark orange blazer. When King played at Tennessee from 1974-77, the Volunteers won five straight over Kentucky, the last team to do that before Florida made it five in a row against the Wildcats with Saturday’s victory.
“Definitely Tennessee is a big rival of ours,” Kentucky’s Sheray Thomas said. “Every time we go there, it’s an exciting game. … They’re playing their hardest. The crowd’s into it, so it’s definitely a big rivalry.”