Rick Barnes’ No. 19 Tennessee Volunteers take on the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday in Thompson-Boling Arena. Tip-off is at 1 p.m. ET and will be televised on CBS.
Barnes and the Vols are coming off an impressive 93-73 win over South Carolina on Wednesday. Victor Bailey, Jr. led the Vols in scoring with 29 points.
Four of the five starters for Tennessee scored in double digits: John Fulkerson with 19, Yves Pons with 10, and Jaden Springer with 16.
This was the first game Fulkerson scored in double digits since the win over Kansas in January. The win over South Carolina puts the Vols’ record at 15-5 and 8-5 in the conference.
Barnes gave an update on Josiah-Jordan James’ injury saying that he thinks he will be fine by Saturday. The return of James will be a huge boost that Tennessee will need.
Kentucky is coming off a close 82-78 win over Vanderbilt where senior guard Davion Mintz led the Wildcats with 18 points. Kentucky’s win over Vanderbilt puts their record at 7-13 and 6-7 in the conference.
This will be the second time the Vols have faced John Calipari’s team this season, after winning the last matchup 82-71 in Rupp Arena.
Calipari’s teams have struggled in Knoxville, winning only once in the six seasons Barnes has been on Rocky Top. Barnes has an impressive 8-5record against the Wildcats.
In order for Barnes to improve his record to 9-5, here is what the Vols must do:
Be Consistent With the 3 Ball
Tennessee must find more consistency with shooting the 3 come Saturday.
The Vols did a decent job on Wednesday, shooting 47.8% (9-19) from behind the arc. But seven of those nine three-pointers were made by one man: Bailey, Jr. Without him, the Vols made just 22.2% of their three-point shots (2-9).
Tennessee needs more guys to make the 3 ball. Springer, Keon Johnson, and Santiago Vescovi must do a better job shooting because it’s extremely unlikely that Bailey, Jr. is going to shoot 70% from deep again.
If the Vols can make 50% or more of their threes, Tennessee will run Kentucky out of the gym.
Need More From Pons and Fulkerson
Two guys that have been in a bit of a slump the last few games are seniors Pons and Fulkerson. The two have combined for just 59 points (14.75 PPG) in the last four games. This has to change come Saturday.
For the Vols to take that next step and reach their full potential, Fulkerson and Pons have to step up their game. They are trending towards that direction after Wednesday when Pons scored 10 and Fulkerson scored 19 against the Gamecocks.
Both Pons and Fulkerson must develop an inside presence come Saturday. If they can both do that and get the pressure off Springer and Johnson, Tennessee will have a great chance of getting the win over Kentucky.
Limit The Offensive Rebounds
Tennessee must do a better job on the limiting the offensive rebounds and giving the opposition second opportunities.
In the last four games, Tennessee has given up 50 offensive rebounds (12.5 per game). This means UT is giving opponents 12 second-chance opportunities to get a basket. Luckily for the Vols, James is expected to be back for Saturday.
James leads the team in rebounds averaging six RPG. This will be a huge boost for Tennessee’s defense if he is able to play. If not, guys like Pons and Fulkerson will have to step up and do a better job on grabbing those boards.
Both Fulkerson and Pons are second and third in rebounds per game averaging 5.8 and 4.9, respectively.
This is an important thing the Vols will have to do if they want to secure a win.
Keon Johnson Must Go Off Again
Lastly, Johnson must have another great performance.
The freshman has shown flashes this season on why he is considered to be an NBA Draft Lottery pick. But he has been inconsistent this season with his production.
Despite the Vols winning by 20, Johnson only scored seven points on Wednesday. He is averaging just 10.1 PPG.
But, for Tennessee to secure a win, they will need more out of him. The last time Kentucky and the Vols faced each other, Johnson had a career-best performance. Johnson went on to score 27 points and defeat the Wildcats in Rupp.
Tennessee needs that from him again.
If he can drop 15-20 points and get the pressure off Springer, Tennessee will grab their win and will go undefeated against Kentucky in the regular season for the first time since the 2017-18 season.