By LARRY VAUGHT
At first I didn’t think it could be right when someone told me that Tennessee had beat Kentucky four straight years in Knoxville. But guess what? I checked and going into Saturday afternoon’s game, the Vols do have a four-game winning streak at home over UK.
Tennessee (13-9, 5-4 SEC) hosts UK (17-5, 7-2 SEC) at 1 p.m. Saturday in a game that will be shown nationally on CBS-TV.
Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said Thursday he had no explanation for the home-court success against UK.
“I’ve said before, I don’t there is a better place to play basketball than Thompson-Boling Arena. Our fans are just terrific. This rivalry has gone back way before all of us, and that has been a big part of it, obviously,” Barnes said.
“You look at Kentucky, I think John (Calipari) has done a really good job with his team. Defensively, they’re as good a defensive team as he’s had in a long time because I think they have really bought in to how he wants to play. Offensively, he’s going to decide how he wants to do it and he’s not afraid to get in long possessions with them.
“To me, it’s a typical Kentucky team where they start playing their best basketball this time of year, and that’s what happening with this team right now.”
Barnes got instant credibility at Tennessee after he arrived from Texas when he beat UK right away. He knows what that meant to the program.
“Obviously, you are talking about one of the great college basketball programs in the country — a program that everybody wants to beat when you’re not a part of that program, just like they do any of the other schools that have had great success over many decades,” Barnes said.
“Kentucky is one of them, and obviously just being two-and-a-half hours up the road is (part of it). To be quite honest, I didn’t understand the rivalry between Tennessee and Kentucky when I got here. I didn’t because I had no reason to understand it, but the fact is I have a lot of respect for John and I think he is the perfect coach for Kentucky.
“I don’t think you can find a guy more suited for a job than he is, and what he has done has been a terrific job. I just hope we can go out and play well and that we can continue to improve.”
He knew rivalries from playing Kansas every year when he coached at Texas or facing North Carolina and Duke when he was the head coach at Clemson.
“Those teams have earned the respect and they deserve it because they have done it year in and year out, decades in and out. People want to call them the blue bloods, but the fact is when you’ve had that much success and you’re not part of it, you want to beat them, and as coaches, they’ve set the standard and if you want to play at that level you’re going to have to understand those are the teams you’re going to have to compete with night in and night out.”