One day after earning its highest ranking ever, Tennessee suffered its first loss in nearly two months. Returning to Knoxville could help the Volunteers get back on track.
The third-ranked Volunteers look to extend the fifth-longest home win streak in the nation as they go for their 27th straight victory at Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday against SEC East rival Georgia.
Tennessee (16-2, 3-1) matched the best 17-game start in program history to earn the No. 3 spot in Monday’s poll. The Volunteers, though, had their 11-game win streak snapped with a 72-66 loss at Kentucky on Tuesday - their first defeat since losing 97-78 to then-No. 15 Texas on Nov. 24.
Tennessee made only three field goals in the final 10 minutes Tuesday and scored its fewest points in a game this season.
“We didn’t have that intensity,” coach Bruce Pearl said. “I don’t think it’s because we were too confident at all. I just think getting up for a game every single night (is difficult).”
The Volunteers have had no problem getting up for games at Thompson-Boling Arena, where they’re 39-2 under Pearl. They’ve won 26 straight there dating to their home finale of 2005-06 - Pearl’s first season at Tennessee.
Extending that home win streak will be a little easier if senior guard Chris Lofton can build on his performance against Kentucky. Lofton has struggled with his shot all season and was just 9-for-26 in his first three SEC games before going 7-for-14 on Tuesday. He was 5-for-10 from 3-point range to set the SEC record for career 3s made with 367.
After scoring at least 20 points in 20 games in 2006-07, Lofton has done it just three times this season. His scoring average has dipped from 20.8 to 13.8 - the seventh-largest decline among Division I players.
Georgia (11-5, 2-1) will try to keep Lofton in check as it goes for its sixth win in eight games. Junior guard Billy Humphrey matched his career high with 24 points and the Bulldogs shot 50.9 percent from the field in their 82-69 win over Arkansas last Saturday.
“I thought Billy had a really big night for us,” Georgia coach Dennis Felton said. “His shooting really gave us a boost tonight and if we can execute that well offensively on a more consistent basis then we are going to have a lot of success.”
Humphrey has topped 20 points in three of his last five contests after notching only one 20-point performance in his first 72 career games. He’s averaging 15.5 points and shooting 50.0 percent from the field while playing in 10 of the Bulldogs’ wins, but has been held to 11.4 points and 32.8 percent shooting in their five losses.
The Bulldogs have lost six straight against the Volunteers - their longest skid in the series since dropping 14 in a row from Feb. 14, 1970-Feb. 1, 1977. Senior guard Sundiata Gaines has averaged 19.0 points and 6.2 rebounds while shooting 56.0 percent in six career games against Tennessee - all losses.
Tennessee’s JaJuan Smith averaged 20.5 points and shot 65.0 percent from the field in the Volunteers’ two wins over the Bulldogs last season, which included an 82-71 victory in Knoxville on Jan. 31 - the Volunteers’ sixth consecutive home win in the series.