By LARRY VAUGHT
ST. LOUIS — Tennessee swept regular-season games from Kentucky, a rare feat for any team to pull off.
Now the Wildcats get a chance to play Tennessee again Sunday in the Southeastern Conference Tournament championship game. Kentucky pounded Alabama Saturday before Tennessee blasted Arkansas 84-66.
The Vols said they don’t plan to make changes in a third game against Kentucky. The Cats lost 76-65 at Knoxville on Jan. 6 and fell 61-59 on Feb. 6 in Rupp Arena.
“We have to get rest tonight and just do what we do. We have a standard that we’re trying to perfect, so we just have to do that and get ready for a team that’s hungry to beat us,” Tennessee’s Jordan Bone, who had 19 points Saturday said.
“You can’t really change who you are, but at the same time, what we did in the regular season doesn’t really matter at this point. Just like any tournament, any team can make a run as deep as they want. The biggest thing is we can’t go in with the mindset that we beat them twice,” Tennessee’s Admiral Schofield, who had 16 points and seven rebounds, said.
“For our players, we have a motto what we call run it back . When you lose, if you’re a competitor, you want to run it back. That’s probably the mindset they have. We’ll be ready. The biggest thing is we’ve got to get our bodies ready to play, get our minds ready to play, and execute the game plan for tomorrow.”
Tennessee coach Rick Barnes joked that he didn’t remember a lot about the two wins.
“They’re a totally different team than they were then. I’ve been watching them. They looked like — and John (Calipari) does such a great job. His teams always get better late in the year. It looks like they’ve really made a commitment to really play big, strong basketball inside. So I think tomorrow will be that kind of game,” Barnes said. “These guys are growing up. Like he kept saying all year, he needed time to grow up, and they picked a good time of year to do it.”
Sophomore Wenyen Gabriel went 7-for-7 from 3-point range for Kentucky against Alabama.
“When I think about him, two years ago he was the difference in the game in Lexington. He came out — he had a tough night in Knoxville, but he started knocking those — and he’s capable of doing that.,” Barnes said.
“But they’ve got depth, we know that. And we’ve got depth. But I don’t think either one of us go in the game thinking we’ve got to make 11, 10, 12 3’s. But like I said, when it’s going in, it makes everything look pretty.”
Tennessee made 11 3’s Saturday while Kentucky made 12. Tennessee was 19 of 25 from the field in the first half of its win and Kentucky was 16 of 19 in the second half against Alabama.
Arkansas had played the late game Friday when it upset Florida and was playing its third game in less than 48 hours Saturday. Guard Daryl Macon said that gave the Vols an edge they won’t have against Kentucky.
“We didn’t have any energy today. I think what cost us today. We usually play with a lot of energy out there,” Macon said.