By RICHARD CHEEKS
UK showed positive signs against Alabama that their 9 game skid may be ending. However, the Cats still squandered a sizable second half lead (18 points) late in the game to get out of Tuscaloosa with an 8-point win.
With six games remaining, 3 on the road (Georgia, Missouri, and Texas A&M) and 3 at Rupp (Tennessee, Florida, and Vanderbilt), the Cats still have the SEC regular season championship within their own control, and an opportunity to play itself into perhaps a 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The win at Alabama provides a basis for optimism on both fronts.
Five of these final six games will be rematches with previous SEC opponents (only the game with Missouri is not a second game). The Cats have lost to two of these final opponents, and has beaten the other three. Tennessee handed the Cats their first SEC loss three weeks ago in Knoxville by 2 points, 82-80. In that game, the Cats were not at full strength, with Mychal Mulder missing the game completely, and De’Aaron Fox nursing an ankle injury, and it showed.
The Cats trailed at the half by 5 points, and about 8 minutes into the second half, the Vols expanded their lead to 11 points. The Cats did find a way to fight back into the game, and make it close at the end, but could not get into the lead. The story of the game: Poor shooting and rebounding, and Tennessee hitting 50% of their 3 point attempts.
TENNESSEE enters the game with a 14-11; 6-6 record. Since the victory over the Cats, the Vols have won three times, over #28 Kansas State by 12, at #75 Auburn by 10, and over #69 Mississippi by 9. The Vols have lost twice since they beat the Cats; at #97 Mississippi State by 5 and to #50 Georgia by 1. TENNESSEE enters this game with an ANE of 0.165 points per possession against a strength of schedule of 0.1125 ppp (#6).
The Cats enter this game with an ANE of 0.289 ppp against a strength of schedule of 0.0847 ppp (#27). The ANE analysis indicates a Kentucky win by 15 points, 83-68 at apace of 75 possessions. This would produce game efficiencies of 1.101 ppp and 0.902 ppp. Pomeroy sees this game in Kentucky’s favor by 12 points 86-74 at a pace of 75 possessions, and Vegas has opened with the Cats favored by 14.
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