By LARRY VAUGHT
NASHVILLE — After holding off Mississippi State 83-76 in Friday’s final Southeastern Conference Tournament quarterfinal game, Tennessee will now get another shot against Kentucky in the tourney semifinals this afternoon.
The teams split regular-season games with each winning at home. Today’s winner could enhance its chance to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
“Honestly, we were just looking for an opportunity to win a championship. We didn’t handle our business in the regular season. We got Kentucky next. They’re a very talented team. They play well together. Very fast in transition,” Tennessee senior Admiral Schofield, who had 20 points and seven rebounds Friday, said.
“The first two matchups, them punching us, us punching them, now we’re facing each other again. We have to go out, compete, do what we do. We know they’re going to come out, compete, do what they do.”
Kentucky had more fans here than any other team — what else is new — at Friday’s games but Schofield knows the game should be good for both teams’ fans.
“It’s good for our fans, both sides. At the same time we got championship in mind, and they do. too. We got to go out and compete and fight just like anybody else,” Schofield said.
Tennessee coach Rick Barnes thinks today’s winner should have a strong claim to a No. 1 NCAA seed.
“We should be in consideration for it. You go back, I think Kentucky has been a team that hasn’t got its recognition that it should have. Before we played up there, you think about it, other than that one tough loss they had at Duke at the beginning of the year, they’ve been good all year long,” Barnes said.
“Again, I just know this league deserves a No. 1 seed is what I believe. There’s no doubt. Again, you look at them, what John (Calipari) has done, they’ve continued to get better. I think somebody told me Reid (Travis) came back (in UK’s win over Alabama Friday). That will certainly help them.
“We know it’s going to be a tough game. They know it is. I think right now both teams want to try to win this conference championship is what I think is really on both people’s minds. Obviously I wish we were in the championship game right now because it’s going to be a quick turnaround for us and them tomorrow. We just got to go play. But I’ll be disappointed if somebody in our league really and truly doesn’t end up on that 1 line.”
Kentucky at least got through playing almost three hours earlier than Tennessee to get ready for today’s 3:30 p.m. EST matchup. Calipari joked he was going to watch a movie with his wife and daughter after UK’s win before starting his scouting report.
“I was upset they took some players and put them on the SEC set (for postgame interviews). We got to get out of here. It’s late. We got to get them back, get their bodies taken care of, feed them, get going,” Barnes said. “It’s hard. Again, we’ll be back here in, what, about 13 hours. It’s a quick turnaround.
“But this time of year, our guys have seen enough. We know each other. They know us as well as we know ourselves, I think vice versa. It’s just going to be a quick turnaround that we have to deal with.”