Posted January 31, 2012 on AP on Fox
Ncaa_basketball_tournament_105a
Coach Cuonzo Martin says his Tennessee Volunteers are better now than when they nearly upset Kentucky in Knoxville. He also knows there's no reason for people to believe it just yet. ''Are we a better team? Yes, we're a better team, but I think you have to go on the road in a hostile environment and prove it,'' Martin said Monday. Tennessee (10-11, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) hasn't proven it yet, and it will be tough to do this week. The Vols travel to Lexington to face the top-ranked Wildcats (20-1, 7-0), who have the nation's longest home winning streak at 47, including a 46-0 mark under coach John Calipari at Rupp Arena. Tennessee hasn't won a true road game, and its most recent road trip resulted in a 65-47 loss at Vanderbilt. The Vols nearly pulled out wins at Mississippi State and Georgia but couldn't close out either game. Calipari thinks Tennessee has improved since Kentucky's 65-62 win in Knoxville on Jan. 14. ''They're a good team,'' he said. ''The only team that really got them was Vandy. Every other game they could have won I'm glad (our rematch) is at home, I can tell you.'' Wildcats sophomore forward Terrence Jones doesn't take his team's dominance at home for granted. ''Every game in the SEC for us is we get the best of every team,'' he said. ''We really have to respect each team in the SEC.'' The Vols have become one of the better defensive teams in the SEC, partly because of how they've played at home. They rank third in the SEC in conference play in points allowed per game (59), second in field goal defense (38.1 percent) and second in rebounds per game (38.1). But on the road, Tennessee has struggled to hit its shots and take care of the ball. The Vols rank 10th in conference play in scoring (58.5 points per game) and last in turnovers (17.2 per game). Kentucky could feast off those marks. The Wildcats are second in the nation in defensive field goal percentage at 36.4 percent and in blocked shots with 204, including 101 by 6-foot-10 freshman Anthony Davis. The Vols' only win away from Knoxville came in the Maui Invitational against host Chaminade in what was technically a neutral site game, and they haven't won in Lexington since a 75-67 victory on Feb. 7, 2006. ''I think it's more mental than anything,'' Martin said. ''I think our preparation is there. It's just a matter of carrying out assignments, being ready to play, having fun and embracing the atmosphere more than anything. I just think it's more mental right now, the mental toughness part of it.'' Kentucky has six players averaging 9.9 points or more. Davis is averaging a double-double with 13.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, while the Wildcats' sixth man, senior guard Darius Miller is hitting 63 percent of his shots over the last four games. ''Darius Miller is playing really aggressive offensively,'' Calipari said. ''He's getting in the middle, he's making that little floater, he's making shots, he's getting strong to the rim, he's dunking balls when he can. He, offensively, is playing like he did at the end of last year.'' If facing a Kentucky team loaded with talent isn't enough, the 23,000-seat Rupp Arena has proven to be the most difficult place in the SEC to get a win in the past few seasons. The Wildcats also will be breaking out special uniforms as part of Nike's ''platinum'' line for this game only. Martin said his players need to learn how to enjoy that kind of atmosphere. ''Just go, play, have some fun and compete,'' he said. ''The great ones love that environment.'' --- AP Sports Writer Colin Fly in Lexington, Ky. contributed to this story.
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