Let’s get ready to rumble
It's officially time to start preparing for Kentucky, our border rival! There are many questions going into Saturday; can the Vols actually make this a game? What do the Vols have to do to actually win? Will Josiah-Jordan James play?
Tennessee is coming off an incredible comeback win at Alabama, after making up a deficit of 15 (multiple times) to win 69-68. Props ,of course, to John Fulkerson’s 22 points and Yves Pons’ 14 points & 14 rebounds(those are career making numbers). A lot of positives came from this game, like Devonte Gaines's defense really demonstrating he’s a pest to deal with and as a team, rebounding FINALLY got better. The Vols got off to a really slow start, a 15 point deficit slow start, not to mention Jordan Bowden was a no show once again in the first half. Going in, we know a victory on the road is always hard, I’m sure the pressure was on for them.
Enough about last night. Let's turn our attention to Saturday at 1 pm at Thompson Bowling Arena against the Kentucky Wildcats! As most of us know, Rick Barnes has owned the Wildcats in recent years 6-4 against John Calipari and the cats haven’t won in TBA since 2015. Yes, we all know most Kentucky fans will say “how’s that sweet 16” or “it’s the regular season” but let’s agree to live in the moment that Tennessee has really owned the Cats the last couple of years in pretty much everything. Let’s face it, it’s a rival and both fan bases care despite what some may say. Last year, the Vols defeated the Cats 71-52 but this year is a much different team, obviously.
Tennessee cannot get behind early, this team is notorious for not arriving in the first half to their potential especially Jordan Bowden. Bowden is one key to success, he has to show up for a full 40 minutes and contribute. Hopefully Josiah James can play, he's been battling a hip injury that he suffered in the off-season which if he can play and contribute on the offensive side of the ball.
The Vols also have to get on the rebound train again, we can’t show up as the team that showed against Texas A&M and Mississippi State. Let s be real, Kentucky will crash the boards and junior C Nick Richards will pound the interior of Tennessee’s big men.
I've gone on record to say that Nick Richards is trash, but he’s proved me wrong this season with his 10 double-doubles and arguably Kentucky’s best player, so Uros Plasovic and John Fulkerson will have their hands full trying to contain Richards.
Tennessee is clearly outmatched and the Cats have more talent but the Volunteers have the home-court advantage in a rivalry game. The crowd should really help with it being sold-out and primetime CBS game.
My main point/key to the game though is big John Fulkerson. He’s the heart and soul of this team, Fulkerson grew up in east Tennessee and knows the importance of this game. Fulkerson has played bigger than his actual size all year long, he's made a case for All-SEC and he WILL have a huge game. Fulkerson will have to stay out of foul trouble for the Vols to keep up with the Wildcats but he's played in this rival for three years now so he knows what lies ahead on Saturday.
We’ll have more coverage throughout the week so stay tuned and keep cheering on the big orange! Go Vols!