Kentucky basketball hopes to end downward spiral at No. 5 Tennessee


Jack Weaver

Kentucky Wildcats guard Sahvir Wheeler (2) dribbles towards the basket during the Kentucky vs. No. 7 Alabama mens basketball game on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023, at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Alabama won 78-52. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Samantha Money, Assistant Sports Editor

After an unexpected 71-68 loss against South Carolina inside Rupp Arena on Tuesday, Kentucky basketball is getting desperate for a win that puts it back in good standing with a disappointed Big Blue Nation.

While the game against the Gamecocks was supposed to be a morale booster for the Cats, it only contributed more to Kentucky’s downward spiral this season and marked a pitiful end to UK’s 28-home game win streak. 

The fire aimed at head coach John Calipari is heating up and only a dominant win is going to satisfy fans, yet it is hard to say if that is even in the books for Kentucky anytime soon.

Kentucky has already experienced the dominance of a ranked SEC team in Tuscaloosa against a No. 7 Alabama last weekend and now the Wildcats will face a similar experience in the form of No. 5 Tennessee in Volunteer territory.

As with the Crimson Tide, this matchup will be an uphill battle for the Cats if they have any hopes to find success on the court. 

Unfortunately for Kentucky, while defense is relied upon heavily in these kinds of matchups, the Wildcats had little to no defensive game against South Carolina, a team that Kentucky was favored to beat by 20.

Instead, the Gamecocks scored 21 second-chance points in addition to outplaying Kentucky in almost all aspects of the game.

To make matters worse, Kentucky’s offense came completely unraveled at the hands of a strong defensive team like Alabama, so a Tennessee team that is currently ranked No. 2 in the nation in scoring defense is going to be quite the challenge for the Wildcats.

The Volunteers currently allow their opponent to score an average of 52.5 points per game while putting up an average of 75.4 points themselves. 

Despite Kentucky recently having its ups and downs on offense, the Cats have still managed to average 76.9 points per game, more than Tennessee, yet UK also has a pattern of struggling to reach its potential against strong defensive teams.

While it is difficult for BBN to anticipate a win in Knoxville on Saturday, there is still hope that the Wildcats can work through their team struggles and find a way to beat their border rival. 

After this depressing week of Kentucky basketball, Calipari left fans with few words.

“We have the best fans. I love our fans,” Calipari said. “I know they may be mad at me right now, but I’ve been here a long-time teaching and working and having our fans be a big part of this. And all I’m saying is, just be with these kids. They need you now more than they need you when they’re 4-0. They need you.”

Kentucky will head to Knoxville on Saturday, Jan. 14, to take on No. 5 Tennessee inside Thompson-Boling Arena. Tipoff against the Vols is scheduled for noon EST and will air live on ESPN.