KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — No. 1 Tennessee takes on no. 5 Kentucky Saturday night at Rupp Arena in the first top-five matchup in the 109-year history of the rivalry.
The Vols and Wildcats have played three times with both teams ranked in the top ten (Tennessee is 2-1 in those games), the last one coming in 1981 when no. 10 Tennessee beat no. 6 Kentucky in Knoxville.
Rick Barnes' squad beat Kentucky 61-59 at Rupp last season, Tennessee's first win at the venue since 2006.
A UT victory Saturday would make history. The Vols have won just five times in 42 trips to Rupp and never in back-to-back games. No Tennessee coach has ever won twice at Rupp Arena. The Big Orange can accomplish both of those feats Saturday.
The Vols' program record 19-game winning streak will be on the line. Kentucky is coming off a home loss to LSU and hasn't lost back-to-back home games since 2009.
The game has implications outside of the rivalry, too. Tennessee (23-1, 11-0 SEC) holds the top spot in the SEC standings. Kentucky (20-4, 9-2 SEC) sits two games behind the Vols in third place. A win Saturday would be a huge help towards Tennessee repeating as SEC regular season champs for the first time ever. LSU (20-4, 10-1 SEC) will be a huge factor in deciding the conference champ, too. The Tigers are in second place and host Tennessee in Baton Rouge next Saturday.
Tennessee and Kentucky are also battling for a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament. The selection committee released its in-season rankings earlier this week and the Vols were the top seed in the South Region with Kentucky slotted as the no. 2 seed in the Midwest Region.
When March Madness arrives, the team seeded higher will get to remain in its natural region (the South), which means playing in Louisville in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, instead of the other, more distant potential destinations Kansas City (Midwest Region), Washington D.C. (East Region) and Anaheim (West Region).
The Vols and Wildcats will play again in Knoxville on March 2 but with only seven regular season games remaining, each contest matters in terms of the conference championship race and NCAA Tournament seeding.
Tennessee and Kentucky tip-off at 8 p.m. Saturday on ESPN.