Over the years, there have been numerous and memorable Kentucky-Tennessee basketball battles.
In this heated rivalry series, UK fans will remember UT coaches or stars like Ray Mears, Bernard King, Ernie Grunfeld, Rodney Woods, Dale Ellis, Don DeVoe, to name several. They all gave Kentucky coaches Adolph Rupp and Joe B. Hall plenty of disappointments. Both of them had a hard time competing against Mears, the colorful coach who posted an overall record of 15-15 against Rupp and Hall from 1962 to ’77.
In recent years, John Calipari’s teams also have struggled against Rick Barnes and the Vols, winning only three times in seven games.
And this weekend’s Top 5 showdown between No. 1 UT and No. 5 UK is perhaps the biggest one in series history. Even the ESPN College GameDay is coming to Lexington for that marquee event.
So I asked Bell County native and former Tennessee player Rodney Woods about Saturday night’s high-stakes encounter.
“This should be a great matchup,” said Woods, a standout guard from old Lone Jack High School who played at UT for three years during the early 1970s. “Hopefully both teams will be healthy and we will get to witness a classic. Coach Cal has done a great job at Kentucky. I think this team plays together better than any team he’s had at UK, and their size and length will be a different challenge for Tennessee.
“This is a solid Tennessee team that doesn’t get rattled or intimidated. Lots of maturity and experience. I just see a physical game with lots of high emotion. For the winner, it will be a great win. For the loser, it will probably just give them more resolve to keep improving. Even though it’s a huge game, I think they may meet down the road in a much bigger one.”
Asked for his prediction, Woods commented, “I’m won’t pick a winner but I will say, ’Go Vols.’ “
Currently the head coach at Wayne County High School, Woods had trouble picking out his favorite memory of UK-UT series as a Vol player.
“(It) would be tough to pick between my first and last game vs. Kentucky,” said Woods. “First time playing against them was my sophomore year and we were trailing late and I scored either the last four or six points of the game and we won by one (in Knoxville). That was in January of 1973.
“I think my last game against them was in February of 1975 and we won 103-98 (also in Knoxville). (Wildcat standouts) Kevin Grevey and Jack Givens were fantastic in that one. Jack and I talked about that one a couple summers ago. But Bernard King and Ernie Grunfeld were just as good. Never got to defeat them in Lexington but they never won in Knoxville during my career.”
Woods, by the way, is also a two-time Kentucky High School Coach of the Year who was named to a national hall of fame. He recently notched his 900th victory in his long coaching career.
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A fearless forecast for Kentucky-Tennessee matchups:
--Saturday, Feb. 16 at Rupp Arena: UK over UT by 6.
--Saturday, March 2 at Thompson-Boling Arena: UT over UK by 8.
Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime columnist in Kentucky, is the author of four books about UK basketball. He is the editor and founder of KySportsStyle.com magazine and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via e-mail at KySportsStyle@gmail.com.