With Vols dead ahead, Cats still shaking off Razorbacks

jtipton@herald-leader.comJanuary 17, 2014 

As declarative sentences go, Kentucky sophomore Alex Poythress won the prize on Friday.

"We owe them one," he said in packing a lot of meaning and purpose into four monosyllabic words.

Poythress meant the Tennessee Volunteers, who play UK at high noon Saturday. The last time the teams met, Tennessee enjoyed its biggest margin of victory in the series' 216-game history.

But John Calipari's abbreviated hello-I-must-be-going "news" conference a few minutes later cast doubt on whom exactly Kentucky would like to reimburse.

■ Tennessee? The Vols were never mentioned in Calipari's six-minute, 46-second cameo appearance (about half the time he usually spends sharing the day's talking points).

■ Arkansas, which beat Kentucky earlier this week? If so, that must wait until Feb. 27, when the Razorbacks play UK in Rupp Arena.

■ Ron Groover, James Breeding and Roger Ayers (the referees in the Kentucky-Arkansas game Tuesday)? Calipari made several references to "fate," a term control-obsessed coaches seldom use.

"We had breakdowns," he said of the 87-85 loss at Arkansas, "and where fate intervened against us. About seven plays."

When asked if fate blew a whistle in Fayetteville, Calipari avoided a direct response. He simply repeated how "fate intervened" in Fayetteville. The UK coach also suggested that fate prevented a rousing victory that could propel Kentucky forward.

Of course, Calipari once noted how the "Kentucky Effect" played a (pro-UK?) role in how games were officiated. No one mentioned an "Arkansas Effect," although the Hogs have won 24 of their 25 most recent home games.

After the victory over Kentucky, Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson saluted his team's ability to set aside the disappointment of an overtime home loss to Florida three days earlier. "Sometimes guys have flashbacks," he said.

Now, Kentucky must not dwell on Tuesday's disappointment. Judging by the questions and answers Friday, the BBN has not flushed the Arkansas game from its G.I. tract.

"Everybody was trying real hard," Poythress said. "Nobody was lollygagging out there. We just got a few bad calls and things didn't go our way.

"It hurt us a lot, and no one wants to lose a game like that. We fought so hard to put it into overtime, fought so hard to try again to put it into double overtime (and) just to lose like that, it really hurt. We just want to come back tomorrow and play a good game."

Poythress denied that Kentucky players might experience "flashbacks" on Saturday.

"No, we just tried to keep our heads up," he said. "We played hard, we played great, just sometimes the ball doesn't bounce our way. We're trying to get focused and get ready for the next game."

Tennessee players spoke of Kentucky trying to take out any lingering frustration on Saturday.

"I feel they'll play better," said Jarnell Stokes, who found the Kentucky-Arkansas game compelling television. "I was planning to go to sleep early that night," he said. "I couldn't go to sleep. I had to watch that game."

The loss at Arkansas put UK players in a foul mood, Marcus Lee said. "The mood is a lot more aggressive during practice. You definitely saw the players go a lot harder. Just going at everybody constantly."

Tennessee's 88-58 victory over Kentucky last Feb. 16 was, in part, a product of timing. Four days earlier at Florida, UK lost star freshman Nerlens Noel to a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

It wasn't pretty as UT won the rebounding battle 39-21, shot 58 percent and took full advantage of then-freshman Willie Cauley-Stein's unfamiliarity with center stage (two points, two rebounds, four turnovers and five fouls in 23 fitful minutes).

"That was a big game-changer," Poythress said. "... We were kind of confused out there. Our defense had really changed. But we want to look at it as a new year and just try to focus on this year and focus on winning this game."

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com.

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