Mark Story

How No. 5 Kentucky and No. 1 Tennessee match up — with a game prediction

How No. 5 Kentucky (20-4, 9-2 SEC) and No. 1 Tennessee (23-1, 11-0 SEC) match up at each position — with a game prediction:

Small forward

Kentucky freshman Keldon Johnson sank two clutch foul shots with 6 seconds left to tie LSU at 71 on Tuesday night — before the underdog Tigers won 73-71 on Kavell Bigby-Williams’ controversial tip-in. The 6-foot-6, 211-pound Johnson (14.0 points, 5.3 rebounds for the season) had 16 points against LSU and has now scored in double figures in six of the past eight games.

Tennessee’s Admiral Schofield has averaged 14.4 points and 7.1 rebounds in seven prior games against Kentucky. The 6-6, 241-pound senior from Zion, Ill., had 22 points and 10 rebounds vs. UK in the Wildcats’ 77-72 victory over the Volunteers in last season’s SEC Tournament finals. Schofield (16.7 points, 6.4 rebounds) went for 21 points and 10 boards in UT’s 85-73 win over South Carolina Wednesday night.

Advantage: Tennessee

Admiral Schofield
Tennessee senior Admiral Schofield (5) has scored in double figures in six of seven career games against Kentucky. He had 20 points or more in two of three meetings vs. the Cats last season. Jeff Roberson Associated Press

Power forward

Kentucky’s PJ Washington scored UK’s final three field goals in the tense struggle with LSU and finished with 20 points and nine rebounds. The 6-8, 228-pound sophomore (team bests of 14.4 points and 8.1 rebounds) has now scored 20 or more points in six of UK’s past seven games and had nine or more rebounds in four of the past six. In three meetings with Tennessee a season ago, Washington had only 22 points and 11 rebounds combined.

Tennessee’s Grant Williams (teams bests of 19.4 points, 7.3 rebounds) was chosen SEC Player of the Year last season by the league coaches and seems likely to repeat. The 6-7, 236-pound junior can impact games in myriad ways. In UT’s 88-83 overtime escape at Vanderbilt on Jan. 23, Williams scored 43 points. In Wednesday’s victory over South Carolina, Williams scored only eight points — but had nine rebounds, seven assists and three blocked shots. Williams has averaged 12.8 points and 5.8 rebounds in five career contests against UK.

Advantage: Tennessee

180206UKmenas04
Kentucky forward PJ Washington, right, and Tennessee forward Grant Williams battled for control of the ball during last season’s 61-59 UT win over UK in Rupp Arena. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Center

Kentucky’s Reid Travis (11.6 points, 7.0 rebounds) had nine points and nine rebounds against LSU. It was the eighth time in 11 SEC games that the graduate transfer from Stanford failed to score in double figures. The 6-8, 238-pound product of Minneapolis is averaging eight rebounds a game in league play, however.

Tennessee’s Kyle Alexander (8.5 points, 6.9 rebounds) is the Volunteers’ rim protector, averaging just under two blocks a game. In seven career games vs. Kentucky, the 6-11, 215-pound product of Milton, Ontario, Canada, has averaged 3.7 points and 2.9 rebounds. Last season, when the Vols won two of three meetings from the Cats, however, Alexadner averaged 7.3 points and 4.3 rebounds vs. UK.

Advantage: Kentucky

Shooting guard

Kentucky’s Tyler Herro has been more effective in SEC road games (14.5 points, 48.4 percent FG shooting) than league home contests (13.2 points, 45 percent FGs). That trend was reflected during the home loss to LSU, when the 6-5, 195-pound freshman from Milwaukee (13.3 points, 4.0 rebounds) missed eight of 13 shots and finished with 12 points and one rebound. Herro has made 28 straight free throws.

Tennessee’s Lamonte Turner (11.7 points, 37.5 percent three-point shooting) was one of the stars of UT’s 61-59 victory over UK in Rupp Arena last season, hitting four of seven three-pointers and scoring a game-high 16 points. The 6-2, 195-pound redshirt junior from Florence, Ala., scored in double figures in all three UT-UK games last season.

Advantage: Kentucky

Point guard

Kentucky’s Ashton Hagans is the player whose emergence turned the arc of the Wildcats’ season upward — but the freshman has struggled in recent games. The 6-3, 192-pound product of Cartersville, Ga., had six turnovers in UK’s win over South Carolina three games ago. In the past two contests, a win at Mississippi State and the loss to LSU, Hagans (7.1 points, 2.4 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 2.1 steals) has struggled to contain dribble penetration as a defender.

Tennessee’s Jordan Bone (13.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 6.5 assists) has developed into one of the SEC’s best point guards. The only knock on the 6-3, 180-pound junior this season has been so-so shooting — 45.9 percent on field-goal tries and 30.6 percent on three-point attempts. In five career games vs. UK, Bone has made only 14 of 38 shots.

Advantage: Tennessee

AP_17046090385693
Tennessee’s Jordan Bone (0) defended Kentucky’s Malik Monk in Rupp Arena in 2017. Bone has developed into one of the SEC’s top point guards. James Crisp AP

Bench

Kentucky’s Immanuel Quickley (5.9 points) played 21 minutes vs. LSU but made only one of five shots. Since scoring 12 points vs. Vanderbilt on Jan. 12, the 6-3, 185-pound freshman has made only seven of 32 shots, four of 21 treys. Freshman EJ Montgomery (4.2 points, 4.0 rebounds) produced six points and five boards in 13 minutes vs. LSU. Sophomore big man Nick Richards (3.4 points, 3.0 rebounds, team-high 1.4 blocked shots) was productive vs. UT last season. The 6-11, 240-pound Richards had nine points and eight rebounds in UK’s 76-65 loss at Thompson-Boling Arena and five points and eight boards in the 61-59 loss in Rupp Arena.

Tennessee’s Jordan Bowden (11.5 points, 3.3 rebounds) has become the Volunteers’ “X-factor” during SEC play. In league games only, the 6-5, 193-pound junior from Knoxville is averaging 15.4 points and making 56.1 percent of his shots. Yves Pons (3.0 points, 2.3 rebounds), a 6-6, 209-pound sophomore from France, has started 13 games. John Fulkerson (3.7 points, 2.7 rebounds), a 6-9, 197-pound redshirt sophomore, has played in 23 games and had six points and three rebounds in Wednesday’s win over South Carolina.

Advantage: Even

Intangibles and history

Kentucky leads the all-time series with Tennessee 154-71. In the John Calipari coaching era, UK is 12-6 vs. UT.

Tennessee Coach Rick Barnes is the only present SEC head coach who has a winning record (4-3) against UK while at his current school.

Tennessee is seeking to beat Kentucky in back-to-back seasons in Lexington. No team has done that since both Vanderbilt and Florida did it in 2005-06 and 2006-07.

Advantage: Kentucky

Schofield and Williams
Tennessee stars Admiral Schofield (5) and Grant Williams (2) celebrated late in the second half of the Volunteers’ 61-59 victory over the Wildcats in Rupp Arena last season. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Prediction

Kentucky 70, Tennessee 69

Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.
  Comments