Vols visit UK

InsideTennessee is your best source for coverage of Vol hoops. Check out this preview of tonight's game at Rupp Arena.

They say "The third time's the charm," but the first time's the charm for Tennessee basketball coaches visiting Kentucky.

Ray Mears' first Vol squad won in Lexington, beating the Big Blue 78-69 in 1963. Mears won just three of 14 subsequent visits, however, finishing 4-11 on Kentucky's home floor.

Don DeVoe's first Vol squad won in Lexington, too, beating the Big Blue 66-55 in 1977. DeVoe went 0-10 thereafter, however, finishing 1-10 at Rupp Arena.

Bruce Pearl's first Vol squad won in Lexington, as well, beating the Big Blue 75-67 in 2006. He never won there again, finishing 1-5 on visits to Kentucky.

Buzz Peterson posted no wins in four trips to Lexington but his first visit was the closest he ever came — a 64-61 loss in 2002.

All of the above suggests there is hope for Cuonzo Martin, who takes his first Vol squad to Lexington for tonight's 7 o'clock tipoff.

Don't bet the house on the Big Orange, though. The Vols' last two road games saw them commit 20 turnovers at Georgia and 25 at Vanderbilt. That level of incompetence tonight at Rupp Arena could result in a 20-point deficit ... by halftime.

Here's why:

Kentucky has the best talent in college basketball, the primary reason it is 21-1, riding a 13-game winning streak and ranked No. 1 nationally. NBADraft.net projects five Wildcats will be picked in the first round of the 2012 draft this June.

Kentucky also has the best fans in college basketball. They are loud, knowledgeable and obnoxious.

Kentucky also has the best home-floor advantage in college basketball. Its combination of great tradition and decibel level can intimidate even the most fair-minded of officials.

None of this bodes well for a Tennessee team that has been pretty good at home but generally inept (0-6) on the road. A comparison of the Vols' first three SEC home games and their first three SEC road games underscores the point.

Tennessee committed just 44 turnovers (14.7 per game) in home games against Florida (13), Kentucky (15) and Auburn (16) — winning two of the three. Conversely, the Big Orange committed 59 turnovers (19.7 per game) in road games at Mississippi State (14), Georgia (20) and Vanderbilt (25) — losing each of the three.

Simply put, you don't win SEC road games averaging 20 turnovers per contest.

"If we plan on winning big games, that's something we can't do," sophomore point guard Trae Golden conceded. "It's just a case of us trying to make home-run plays instead of simple plays. We do that too much, and that's why we make turnovers."

Martin believes the Vols are physically capable of winning away from home. Their problem on the road is between their ears.

"It's more mental than anything," the head man said. "Our preparation is there. It's just a matter of carrying out assignments, being ready to play and having fun — embracing the atmosphere more than anything. It's more mental right now ... the mental toughness part of it."

Until the Vols exhibit some mental toughness, they will continue making unforced turnovers on the road and losing on the road.

"More than anything it's turning the ball over," Martin said. "When you watch film, there's not a lot of pressure being applied when we make those turnovers. I know my personnel; I know who we're up against; I know what we're dealing with."

What the Vols are up against tonight is a talented team with great tradition and noisy fans in a hostile arena. That's an awful lot for a rookie coach to overcome on his first trip to Lexington.

Still, Ray Mears, Don DeVoe and Bruce Pearl beat the odds. Cuonzo Martin gets his chance tonight.

NOTES: Tennessee brings a 10-11 overall record and 2-4 SEC mark into tonight's game. The Wildcats are 21-1 and 7-0.... John Calipari is 46-0 at home since becoming Kentucky's head coach. His Cats struggled in their most recent home outing, however, before subduing Alabama 77-71.... The Big Blue projects to start 6-foot-10, 220-pound Anthony Davis (13.3 points, 10.3 rebounds per game), 6-foot-9, 252-pound Terrence Jones (12.4 ppg), 6-foot-7, 232-pound Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (12.7 points, 7.6 rebounds), 6-foot-4, 210-pound Doron Lamb (13.5 ppg) and 6-foot-2, 189-pound Marquis Teague (9.9 points, 4.4 assists per game).... Davis scored 18 points and Gilchrist 17 as the Big Blue beat the Vols 65-62 Jan. 14 in Knoxville. Cameron Tatum scored 16 points and Jeronne Maymon 15 to pace Tennessee that day.... Tennessee stands 4-11 all-time versus teams ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll, winning four of the last six meetings after an 0-9 start.... Tonight's game will be televised by ESPNU.

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