VAUGHT: Vol game a "must win" for Kentucky

For Kentucky to be able to win the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division race, it has to beat Tennessee in Rupp Arena Tuesday.

But how easy will it be for Kentucky to beat Tennessee, even in friendly Rupp Arena? Alabama and Vanderbilt, two teams that have not played as consistently well this season as UK, have already won at Rupp Arena this season.

The Volunteers rely on a pressing, 3-point shooting attacking that has made first-year coach Bruce Pearl currently more popular in Knoxville than football coach Philip Fulmer.

"Tennessee has shown what you can do with excellent guard play because those two guys (Chris Lofton and C.J. Watson) are really good. If you allow them to score 80 or 90 points and shoot open 3-pointers from the perimeter or foul them when they do drive, they have a big advantage," LSU coach John Brady said.

"Tennessee is a very good offensive team. They have three players on the perimeter that really shoot well. They like to play in transition and really shoot the 3 well. They try to be disruptive and create turnovers with their press and play a unique style that is difficult to get ready for," Florida coach Billy Donovan said.

"Their team is just different," Georgia coach Dennis Felton said. "They have that non-traditional lineup on the floor that is quicker and smaller and that is tough to play against.

"Then they have Lofton. He has the ability to make some tough, well-guarded shots to help their team win. He did it to us this year and last year. He can string together some outrageous shots. He is something else, he really is."

Pearl thinks Watson has been as "productive" as any point guard in the conference this year with his overall play. Yet he won't deny that Dane Bradshaw, a backup point guard last year, could be the team's most valuable player because of the job he's done at power forward against bigger, stronger players.

"He may not be our best player, but he plays the most important role," Pearl said. "He has really played with passion and a lot of energy and is infectious for the rest of our team."

So can Tennessee beat Kentucky?

"Why not? We have a lot better team this year. We play together more. We accept our roles and play a style that takes advantage of our talent," Watson said. "We know how good Kentucky always is, but we really think this is our year to be special."

But remember one thing. Tenneessee has put together its 7-1 league start thanks to five home games. Starting with Tuesday's game at UK, the Vols play five of their last eight SEC games on the road and a Kentucky win would send the message that the second half of the season could be a lot different than the first eight games.


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