VOL HOOPS REPORT: The Big Orange Return to Rupp Arena

The Tennessee basketball team enters the week looking to break out of a three-game losing skid. First up for the Volunteers this week is a Tuesday night clash against Kentucky at Rupp Arena in Lexington (7 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Kentucky is one of only three SEC schools (along with Alabama and Missouri) to lead its all-time series against the Volunteers. The Kentucky series is UT’s oldest and most-played among SEC opponents. The Vols and Wildcats first met on Feb. 5, 1910, and have clashed 214 times over the years.

No program in college basketball has logged more wins over Kentucky than Tennessee (66).

Winning at Rupp Arena, however, has been a tough task for visiting teams. Entering December,Kentucky owned a 55-game home winning streak. But the Cats have lost twice at Rupp this season, falling to Baylor on Dec. 1, and SEC newcomer Texas A&M on Saturday. A Tennessee triumph on Tuesday would give Kentucky its first two-game home losing streak since March of 2009 (lost to LSU and Georgia).

And although Tuesday’s game snaps a seven game streak in the series during which at least one of the teams has been ranked in the AP top 25, a capacity crowd is expected in the Bluegrass State.

“(It’s) the kind of environment you want to play in,” senior guard Skylar McBee said. “They’re going to have a ton of fans there. The crowd is going to be on you; the students are going to be on you. It’s going to be our team against 20,000-or-so in there. But that’s the kind of environment you want to play in. We’ve got to be ready for it and go in there and play hard.”

Underclassmen account for 84.5 percent of Kentucky’s scoring. Upperclassmen are responsible for 59.3 percent of UT’s points this season.Tennessee has held 12 of 14 opponents to fewer than 70 points this season.Kentucky averages 77.4 points per game.

During his weekly media luncheon Monday, Vols head coach Cuonzo Martin shared some of his keys to slowing down the Wildcats’ attack.

“You’ve got to stop the ball in transition, first and foremost,” Martin said. “And get your guys back from a transition-defense standpoint. We’ll still crash the glass with three guys like we normally do. But you’ve got to get back. It starts with your transition defense. You can’t allow those guys to get easy baskets. When they get easy baskets in transition, it’s a tough night. Then you have to keep them off the offensive glass.”

Kentucky won the battle of the boards in both of last season’s meetings.

Sophomore Tennessee guard Josh Richardson said a good start will be critical Tuesday.

“A team like Kentucky, you can’t let them get their head up or they’re absolutely just (dominate) you,”Richardson said. “They’re really talented, so we’ve just got to come out with a lot of whole lot of energy and play well.”

Tuesday’s clash matches the SEC’s two winningest programs in league play dating to the 2005-06 season. During that span,Tennessee’s 75 regular-season conference wins are second only to Kentucky’s 79.

Fourth-year Kentucky head coach John Calipari has lost to the Big Orange just once since taking over the reins in Big Blue Nation, but the Volunteers have been a thorn in his side since he returned to the college coaching ranks in 2000 following a stint in the NBA. Tennessee has defeated a Calipari-coached team five times since his return to the NCAA. OnlyLouisvillehas dealt him more losses during that span (6).

The Vols also have proven to be a dangerous foe for the defending NCAA Tournament champion. In its last nine games against the previous season’s top squad,Tennessee is 7-2. That includes two wins over the Wildcats in the spring of 1999.

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