Sidelines with John Clay

Is this a chink in Tennessee basketball’s armor?

AP photo

Tennessee has won 19 straight games and is 11-0 in the SEC, so it would take a search party to find a weak spot in the Volunteers’ game. If there is one, however, it might be this: Three-point defense.

“We still weren’t as good as we needed to be guarding the three-point line,” said Tennessee coach Rick Barnes after the Vols’ 85-73 win over South Carolina on Wednesday night.

The visiting Gamecocks made a season-high 14 three-pointers on 23 attempts for 60.9 percent in its second loss to UT this season. Tennessee beat USC 92-70 back on Jan. 29 in Columbia.

At Thompson-Boling, South Carolina’s Tre Campbell was five-of-five from beyond the arc. Hassani Gravett was four-of-six from three. Chris Silva made two of his three three-point attempts and freshman guard A.J. Lawson was one-of-five from three.

It was the continuation of a Tennessee trend. SEC teams are making 36.5 percent of their three-point attempts against the Vols, who rank 155th nationally in three-point defense at 34.1 percent.

[SEC men’s basketball game-by-game in a Google Doc]

Texas A&M was 12-of-27 from three in the Aggies’ 93-76 loss to the visiting Vols on Feb. 2. Vanderbilt was 10-of-21 from three for 47.6 percent in the Commodores’ 88-83 overtime loss to Tennessee in Nashville on Jan. 23. Alabama made 10 of 26 threes for 38.5 percent in the Tide’s 71-68 loss in Knoxville on Jan. 19. Florida was 12-of-32 from three against the Vols in a 78-67 loss in Gainesville on Jan. 12.

It should be noted, of course, that despite sinking 14 threes, South Carolina lost by 12 points and never really threatened the Vols on Wednesday. Plus, three-point shooting is not UK’s strong suit. The Cats are shooting 35.3 percent from three on the season. They average 6.1 made threes per game.

Still, it’s something to watch on Saturday when the Cats and Vols meet at 8 p.m. at Rupp Arena.

SEC basketball standings

  • Tennessee 11-0
  • LSU 10-1
  • Kentucky 9-2
  • Ole Miss 7-4
  • South Carolina 7-4
  • Alabama 6-5
  • Arkansas 5-6
  • Miss State 5-6
  • Auburn 5-6
  • Florida 5-6
  • Missouri 3-8
  • Texas A&M 3-8
  • Georgia 1-10
  • Vanderbilt 0-11

Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari talks to the media after his team’s 73-71 loss to LSU on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019. Now 9-2 in the SEC, the Wildcats play host to No. 1-ranked Tennessee on Saturday at Rupp Arena.

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John Clay is a sports columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader. A native of Central Kentucky, he covered UK football from 1987 until being named sports columnist in 2000. He has covered 20 Final Fours and 37 consecutive Kentucky Derbys.


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