Tennessee Volunteers Lying In Wait For Blue And Bloodied Kentucky Wildcats

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This might be the right time for the struggling Kentucky Wildcats to find themselves on those Bourbon trails between Lexington and Knoxville, Tennessee.

It has been a season on the rocks so far for Kentucky (10-16, 1-3 SEC), which finds itself near the bottom of the SEC standings. And some of their fans may be at the bottom of a glass.

When they woke up on Saturday morning, their team was preparing to play at powerful Tennessee (14-2, 4-0 SEC) at noon on ESPN. The Volunteers are 12-point favorites.

Kentucky coach John Calipari has had much to scream about this season. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

“We’ve got to figure out some stuff,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said following a 71-68 home loss on Tuesday to South Carolina, which itself stumbled into Rupp Arena at the bottom of the SEC and 7-8 on the season.

Tennessee just beat South Carolina, 85-42, last Saturday and is No. 5 in the nation. Kentucky opened the season at No. 4, but has been slip, sliding away ever since.

STRUGGLING KENTUCKY WILDCATS COULD GET WORSE FAST

“We’re going to have to see what we can do to keep people from running down hill, because that’s not,” Calipari said, but couldn’t finish the thought. It has been that kind of season.

“We’re going to have to figure it out,” he finally said. “I still think this team can be good. Got to have a full roster, and then we’ve got to go.”

Kentucky Athletic Director Weighs In On John Calipari

Kentucky fans have already been saying Calipari’s got to go. This is looking like his second terrible season in just three years as the Wildcats were 9-16 and 8-9 in 2020-21.

Athletic director Mitch Barnhart tried to put some of that talk to rest on Friday on Kentucky Sports Radio.

“We’re not where we want to be, but Cal is a Hall of Fame coach,” Barnhart said. “And he’s been unbelievable in the past at finding a way to get our team better as we go through the season. And so we’re in a tough stretch right now, and we got to find our way through that. And I know our coaches and players are committed to getting better and finding a way to get us into postseason play and make a run at it.”

Calipari did make four Final Fours in five years, but that was several years ago from 2011 through 2015. In recent years from 2017 through 2019, he did make two Elite Eights with a Sweet 16. Kentucky fans may be a bit spoiled.

“I’ve seen Cal do this many, many times,” Barnhart said. “And so I have confidence that this guy has done it before and he can do it again.” 

Kentucky Will Be Missing Two Starters Again

But about that full roster? Nope. Five-star freshman starting guard Cason Wallace (11.6 points, 42 percent 3-point shooter) is questionable after missing most of the South Carolina game with back spasms. And starting forward Jacob Toppin (10.9 points, 6.1 rebounds) is also questionable with a shoulder injury.

Kentucky’s defense has been a main problem. The Wildcats are No. 10 in the SEC and 133rd nationally in points allowed with 67.5. Tennessee is No. 2 with just 53.4 given up.

“I thought that we would be a hell of a defensive team,” Calipari said. “We’ve got to shore that up because that’s the basis of what we do. But we’ve got to be better. We’ve got to be better than this, and that’s on me.”

Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes has beaten Kentucky five of seven times in Knoxville, Tennessee. (Getty Images)

Tennessee coach Rick Barnes has seen the film and the scores. Alabama enjoyed its largest margin of victory ever over Kentucky last Saturday by 78-52, but he’s not buying it.

“When you think of his teams, all I know is they always get better,” he said. “Always. I don’t care what has happened up to this point. You can throw all that out. They’ve had injuries they’re dealing with.”

Barnes has had success against Kentucky when it is at its best. He has won six of the last nine meetings and is 10-7 since he took over in the 2015-16 season. Calipari is 2-5 at Tennessee vs. Barnes.

“They’ve had great success in that program, certainly since John has been there,” Barnes said. “He’s taken it to a different level, where people expect. I can tell you, John Calipari has improved it as much as any coach they’ve ever had.”

Written by Glenn Guilbeau

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