Cats prepared for another hostile environment at Tennessee

Kentucky's Immanuel Quickley (5) and Tyrese Maxey (3) and coach John Calipari confer during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Vanderbilt in Lexington, Ky., Wednesday, Jan 29, 2020.
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LEXINGTON, Ky (WYMT)- Kentucky has developed a Saturday routine, but it doesn't have anything to do with sleeping in, brunch or knocking items off a to-do list around the house.

The Wildcats have grown accustomed to waking up in a hotel and preparing to play a game in a hostile road environment.

Immanuel Quickley doesn't mind that one bit.

"I think road games are probably the funnest for me," Quickley said. "Being at Rupp and being with these fans is really cool – best fans in the world – but just to be on the road when everybody's cheering against you, it's just your 12 guys in the court and on the coaching staff and everybody else is cheering against you."

For the fourth Saturday in a row, No. 15/16 UK (17-5, 7-2 Southeastern Conference) will take on the challenge of ruining the weekend for an opponent and its fans. This time, the Cats will travel to Knoxville, Tennessee, to take on the Tennessee Volunteers (13-9, 5-4 SEC) at 1 p.m.

"Teams are really close, not too far, like three hours down the road," Quickley said. "Tennessee, I'm sure their fans will be there screaming and yelling. One of my favorite places to play, honestly, since I've been here."

Kentucky at Tennessee
Sat., Feb. 8 - 1 p.m. ET
Thompson-Boling Arena
Knoxville, Tenn.
Game Notes: UK (PDF) Get Acrobat Reader | UT (PDF) Get Acrobat Reader
UK Athletics App

Radio: UK Sports Network
Live Stats

UK Stats UT
17-5 Record 13-9
7-2 Conference Record 5-4
75.2 PPG 66.6
65.8 Opp PPG 61.5
.459 FG% .429
.386 Opp FG% .389
37.9 RPG 35.6
.319 3PT FG% .306
.289 Opp 3PT FG% .312
14.2 APG 14.8
5.1 SPG 6.1
5.0 BPG 5.9
Quickley has plenty of experience on that front, including each of the last three Saturdays when UK has faced Arkansas, Texas Tech and Auburn in hostile road environments. The Cats are 2-1 in those games after falling short at Auburn last weekend and John Calipari knows their next such opportunity will be a challenge.

"Anytime I've been in that building, it's packed and it's like a game and it's a significant game," Coach Cal said. "This one will be."

At both Memphis and now Kentucky, Calipari has become familiar with Thompson-Boling Arena – the fourth largest in college basketball in capacity. He is 3-6 there as UK's head coach, losing the last four straight. Included in that is a game last year Tennessee won by 17 points to avenge a loss at Rupp Arena by the same margin two weeks prior.

"On the last play of the game, Admiral Schofield had dunked and the crowd had just went crazy," Quickley said. "It was almost like Arkansas where you had to put your hands in your ears because it was so loud. Hopefully this year we can rewrite that story going down there a little bit. Like I said, it'll be fun just to get in a good atmosphere and compete."

Another two weeks after that game, the two teams played an Elite Eight-level game in the SEC Tournament semifinals, with Tennessee eking out an 82-78 win. Of course, the two teams look a lot different than they did a year ago.

Kentucky is led by returners Quickley, Ashton Hagans, Nick Richards and EJ Montgomery, but they are hardly the same players in stepping up to fill the void left by the likes of PJ Washington, Reid Travis, Tyler Herro and Keldon Johnson. Tennessee, meanwhile, has a brand-new starting five with the departure of Schofield, Grant Williams, Jordan Bone and Kyle Alexander and the loss of Lamonte Turner to injury in December.

Even so, Calipari knows too much about his good friend Rick Barnes to have anything but respect for the Volunteers.

"They're a physical team," Calipari said. "They play well. They're well coached. They run their stuff. Defensively, they'll grind you. They'll press you. They'll deny you. He does a little bit of everything. It'll be a hard challenge for us."

But for all the talk about the history with Tennessee, UK's Saturday routine won't be any different than it has been each of the last three weeks. An entire town might be buzzing ahead of their arrival once again, but the Cats are zeroed in on what they need to do.

"I think we just try to take it game by game, day by day, really practice by practice," Tyrese Maxey said. "Try to get 1% better every single day. Coach Cal always tells us not worry about any other teams – he only worries about us – and that's what we go out there and do. Like I said, practice by practice, game by game."

You can watch the game Saturday on WYMT at 1 p.m.