Back on Nov. 26 Virginia took the ball right at UK center Marquis Estill, getting him in early foul trouble that limited him to 13 minutes of action. The Cavaliers also limited Kentucky to 2-of-22 shooting from beyond the arc and won 75-61.
Michigan State used the same formula on Dec. 14. Estill was limited by foul trouble to 26 minutes and finished the game with four personals. Moreover, the Spartans held UK to 5-of-14 shooting from 3-point range and won 71-67.
Louisville was the latest team to declaw the Cats, and Rick Pitino's crew also took the ball right to the basket. The Cardinals shot a whopping 38 free throws. Twelve of these were taken by ex-UK standout Marvin Stone, who outscored Estill 16-6 in the battle of big men. Meanwhile, Louisville limited UK to 3-of-18 shooting from 3-point range in rolling to an 81-63 victory.
Tennessee did most of the things it takes to beat Kentucky when the teams met Jan. 9 in Knoxville. The Vols attacked the basket, resulting in just 15 minutes of action for Estill and 26 free throws for Tennessee. The Big Orange also held UK to 6-of-21 shooting from beyond the arc. In addition, Tennessee set the tone early, racing to a 15-8 lead in the opening minutes. The problem was, the Big Orange couldn't rebound (UK won the boards 35-27) and it couldn't contain Wildcat guards Keith Bogans and Gerald Fitch.
Bogans scored 20 points and Fitch 17, combining to hit 14 of 14 free throws. The Vols' inability to guard them effectively resulted in Jon Higgins fouling out after only 23 minutes of action and C.J. Watson finishing the game with four personals. For the game, UK shot a whopping 34 free throws and won 74-71.
Can Tennessee win the rematch? Sure. Here's why:
* The Vols start three seniors -- Ron Slay, Higgins and Thaydeus Holden -- who have the experience and poise to handle the noise at Rupp Arena.
* Higgins was on his way to a career night against UK last time out (5 of 7 from the floor, including 4 of 5 from beyond the arc) until foul trouble sidelined him. If he plays just as aggressively on offense and a little smarter on defense tonight, he'll give the Big Blue fits.
* Slay was too much for Estill in the earlier meeting, outscoring Kentucky's post man 22-7.
* C.J. Watson committed just three turnovers in 36 minutes against UK's press last time, and has matured considerably since then.
* Holden has emerged, providing Tennessee with another scoring threat.
* With UK on a 16-game winning streak and UT on a two-game losing streak, the Big Blue may look past the Big Orange.
Bottom line: The keys for Tennessee tonight are:
1) The Vols must carry the fight to the Wildcats from the opening tip. Once UK gets a double-digit lead at home, the Cats are almost impossible to beat.
2) Slay and Brandon Crump must take the ball right at Estill. Crump scored just two points in the earlier meeting.
3) Higgins, Watson and Holden must contain Bogans and Fitch without fouling. That's a tall order, though.
''Bogans and Fitch are really hitting some shots for them,'' UT head man Buzz Peterson said. ''When they're doing that, they're pretty hard to handle.''
Too hard for Tennessee to handle, most likely.
My pick: Kentucky 78, Tennessee 66.