UK Men's Basketball

With Tennessee being UK’s next ‘war,’ Calipari moves Knox into trenches

To find Kevin Knox at Kentucky practices, you should look to the end of the court where Nick Richards, Sacha Killeya-Jones, PJ Washington and Tai Wynyard throw their weight around. You should ignore the darting and dashing of guards at the other end.

“Kevin is no longer working with guards,” UK Coach John Calipari said Friday. “He’s working with the big guys.”

Calipari said he hoped the move would lead to more aggressive play from Knox.

“Go to the goal more and rebound more . . . ,” Calipari said. “Play like you’re a forward who can really shoot. Play like you’re a big man who can really shoot and score.”

At 6-foot-9 and 215 pounds, Knox has the size to be productive around the basket. Often during the preseason and non-conference portion of the season, Calipari advised, urged and/or implored Knox to not settle for jump shots.

Knox leads Kentucky with 21 three-point baskets. On the down side, it’s taken him a team-high 63 three-point shots to get there.

Put another way, three-pointers account for 38.7 percent of Knox’s shots. Only Wenyen Gabriel, this team’s designated Derek Willis “stretch-four,” has a higher percentage of his shots (45.8 percent) coming from three-point distance.

Kentucky figures to need aggression and a willingness to mix it up around the basket in Saturday night’s game at Tennessee. The Vols’ leading scorer and rebounder is forward Grant Williams. Only 10.8 percent of his shots have been three-pointers.

Earlier this season, ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg referred to the Vols as “a bunch of junkyard dogs.”

With Tennessee having lost its last two games and the game being a sellout, Calipari expects an intense environment.

“It’ll be a war,” he said. “It will be good for these guys to feel this.”

Calipari reminded reporters that the game is a sellout. And with an 0-2 start in the Southeastern Conference, it’s now or perhaps never for Tennessee to continue riding the theme of proving the media wrong in picking the Vols to finish 13th in the league.

“They’re desperate,” Calipari said. “They’ve got to have it. And we’ve got to have it. Let’s see what happens.”

Tennessee Coach Rick Barnes played down the notion that his team’s 0-2 start translated into motivation.

“I think if you’re a competitor, every game has to be looked upon like that,” he said. “I don’t care if you’re 2-0 or 0-2. I can assure you Kentucky is looking at this game as important.”

Knox spoke of the Cats being on full alert in Knoxville. “We expect them to give us 100 percent,” he said.

Gabriel is the only UK player to have played at Tennessee. He made one of six shots (none of the three from three-point range) and scored two points last Jan. 24. He did have nine rebounds.

“I expect a dogfight, as usual,” he said. “They think they can beat us.”

To prevent that, Kentucky figures to need to contain Williams, the Vols’ leading scorer (15.6 ppg) and rebounder (6.7 rpg).

Earlier this season, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas referred to Williams as “Baby Barkley.” The reference to Charles Barkley might be a bit much. But Williams can be the kind of low-post force that has troubled Kentucky at times.

“They haven’t hurt us with that,” Calipari said of opponents. “But they did in this game (at LSU on Wednesday). And the kid (LSU’s Duop Reath) just battled. The baskets he made were just toughness baskets.”

Reath, who came into the game averaging 11.9 points and 4.7 rebounds, scored 24 points and grabbed 11 rebounds against Kentucky.

That marked the fourth straight game an opposing big man posted a double-double against UK. Reath followed Yante Maten (Georgia), Ray Spalding (Louisville) and Thomas Welsh (UCLA). Virginia Tech’s Chris Clarke came within a point of making it five straight double-doubles. He had nine points and 11 rebounds against UK.

Of UK’s post defense, Gabriel said, “It could definitely use some improvement.”

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton

Saturday

No. 17 Kentucky at No. 23 Tennessee

When: 9 p.m.

TV: SEC Network

Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1

Records: Kentucky 12-2 (2-0 SEC), Tennessee 9-4 (0-2)

Series: Kentucky leads 153-69

Last meeting: Kentucky won 83-58 on Feb. 14, 2017, in Lexington.

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