Shootout at UK Corral

Most years either Kentucky or Tennessee is battling for a top-10 ranking and a prime NCAA Tournament seeding when the Vols and Wildcats hold their late-season meeting. Not this year.

Even so, the Wildcats (18-8) and the Vols (16-9) will have plenty on the line when they collide today at 1 in Rupp Arena. The Big Orange and Big Blue share the SEC East lead, along with South Carolina and Florida – all with 7-4 league records. That makes today's game big.

"We're looking forward to it, "UK coach Billy Gillispie said earlier this week. "It should be a fun atmosphere and a fun game. Both teams are tied for first. This is a game with high stakes as far as the SEC. There's a great tradition there that goes back a long, long time."

Kentucky shot a sizzling 56.6 percent from the field and drilled Tennessee 90-72 in the earlier meeting at Knoxville. Gillispie insists the Vols have improved significantly since then, however.

"I don't think many teams have the capability to change like they have," he said. "I don't know whether it was after our game or whatever, but from then till now they're a totally different team."

The 2008-09 Vols are Bruce Pearl's tallest and most athletic team to date but many observers question their toughness. Gillispie suggests that's a bad rap.

"They've really developed their toughness at all five spots and in the guys coming off the bench," he said. "They're really tough defensively I think. Their interior defense is fantastic.... Their perimeter defense has really improved."

Kentucky can claim the SEC East title by winning out, since the Cats engage all three of the teams tied with them – Tennessee (Saturday), South Carolina (Wednesday) and Florida (March 7). When asked if his players are excited to control their own destiny, however, Gillispie hedged a bit.

"We haven't talked about that any at all," he said. "Like coaches always say: When you play your first game, there's still 15 games to go. When you play your eighth game, you still have eight games to go.

"Even though there's a logjam at the top right now there's still five games to go, which is almost one-third of the conference season. I don't think you should spend all that time worrying about that and using energy like that. I think it could be better spent elsewhere – preparing mentally and physically to try to win your next game.

"You can only win one game or lose one game on any particular day. No matter what the outcome, you have to be ready to play the next four. "

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