Whether the Vol sophomore inadvertently misquoted the famous line "Home is where the heart is" or intentionally modified it is a moot point. There is considerable truth in his version: Home court IS where the heart is. All teams show more heart at home, where they've got thousands of cheering fans to bolster their courage in the clutch.
Consider the Vols:
- The Vols showed heart on Jan. 16, when they twice rallied from overtime deficits to nip Ole Miss 71-69.
- The Big Orange showed heart on Jan. 31, when it survived a series of Florida comebacks to prevail 61-60.
- Tennessee showed heart on Feb. 6, when it outscored South Carolina 20-9 down the stretch to turn a 43-46 deficit into a 63-55 victory.
All four of those victories occurred at Thompson-Boling Arena, site of today's noon tipoff against the Wildcats (27-1 overall, 12-1 in SEC play). Clearly, No. 19 Tennessee (20-7, 8-5) has a lot more heart - and success - on its home floor.
The question is: Will heart and home floor be enough to offset the sizable talent advantage of the ridiculously gifted Wildcats?
Maybe. Tennessee is 68-8 at home in Bruce Pearl's four-plus seasons at the helm. It should be noted, however, that two of those eight losses came at the hands of Kentucky teams in 2006 (80-78) and 2009 (90-72). It also should be noted that the 2010 Wildcats are far better than their 2006 and 2008 predecessors.
The current Cats rank No. 1 among SEC teams in scoring (80.5 points per game), victory margin (15.3 points per game), field-goal percentage (48.0), rebound margin (+10.0 per game), assists (15.2 per game) and offensive rebounds (15.0 per game). They play the other end of the court, too, ranking second in field-goal defense (37.8 percent) and blocked shots (7.14 per game).
If the earlier meeting is any indication, today's UT-UK game will be determined by guard play. Tennessee's top scorers Feb. 13 at Lexington were guards Bobby Maze (15 points) and Melvin Goins (14) but it was Kentucky freshman guards John Wall (24 points) and Eric Bledsoe (16) who carried the day. The two combined for 21 Big Blue points in a 23-10 finishing kick that turned a 50-52 deficit into a 73-62 Wildcat victory.
Of course, that game was played on Kentucky's home court, whereas today's rematch will be played on Tennessee's home court. And, as that great philosopher Cameron Tatum once said: "Home court is where the heart is."
NOTES: Bruce Pearl is 20-14 vs. ranked teams at Tennessee but just 2-4 this season.... Today's game will be televised nationally by CBS. Tennessee is 2-0 on CBS this year, beating Kansas 76-68 on Jan. 10 and beating Florida 61-60 on Jan. 31.... Kentucky is expected to start the 6-4 Wall (16.7 points per game), 6-11 freshman DeMarcus Cousins (16.3 points, 10.2 rebounds per game), 6-9 junior Patrick Patterson (15.1 points, 7.6 rebounds per game), the 6-1 Bledsoe (10.6 points per game) and 6-7 sophomore Darius Miller (6.3 points per game).