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From the Pressbox: On Tennessee's Stokes and more notes

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In its first game without Nerlens Noel, Kentucky will face one of the hottest big men in the SEC.

Jarnell Stokes has posted six consecutive double-doubles for Tennessee, including a 17-point, 10-rebound performance in a win at Vanderbilt Wednesday night. And the Volunteers have won four of their last six, including the last two - both of which were on the road.

Coach Cuonzo Martin says two elements of Stokes' game stand out as the reasons for his improved performance.

"He's rebounding balls out of his area. That's something he didn't do last year, going and get big rebounds. And he's improved his ability to score with his back to the basket," Martin told reporters in Knoxville earlier this week. "It's also the work that he's putting in and I couldn't have said that at the beginning of the season. And when he's making free throws, I just don't see many guys that can stop him (one-on-one)."

Martin says they have started bringing Stokes away from the basket, to get away from double-team situations. And the coach says Stokes now needs to embrace the role of being this team's anchor, the way Martin's former Purdue teammate, Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson, did.

"That's one of the things that Glenn Robinson did at Purdue. It didn't matter who was guarding him, he was a major threat every time down. And the guys around him became better," Martin added.

'78 team celebrates 35th anniversary

UK honored the 1978 national championship team last weekend and Friday marks a noteworthy anniversary for that squad.

On this date, the Wildcats defeated Tennessee 90-77 at Rupp Arena, in a game that had been postponed from January 28 because of an ice storm.

The win snapped a streak of five consecutive victories in the series for the Volunteers, matching their longest winning streak against the Big Blue. Rick Robey's 18 points and James Lee's 17 paced the Cats.

Ten days later, UK beat the Vols in Knoxville, something a Kentucky team had not done since 1972.

Former Cat Anderson supports Noel after injury


Kudos to Derek Anderson for paying a visit to Nerlens Noel on the day he learned about his torn ACL. Anderson suffered a season-ending knee injury in 1997, but came back to have a long and successful NBA career. That's no doubt a good story for Noel to hear.

The '97 team lost Anderson on January 18 and struggled to beat a mediocre Vandy team into its first game without "D.A." four days later. But soon, the Wildcats began to reinvent themselves and they made a run to the second of three national title games in a row. That was a much more experienced UK team, led by Ron Mercer, who was a key reserve on the '96 championship squad, but the message of every player contributed a little more is a good one to remember.

Also on that '97 team, a little-used walk-on named Cameron Mills made the most of the opportunity Anderson's injury presented. Two games after Anderson went down, Mills played 16 minutes and scored 12 points in a win at Arkansas and Mills became a key reserve on that team and the title squad that followed the next year.

And in 1976, Kentucky lost starting center Rick Robey to a midseason injury, only to regroup and finish strong, including an NIT championship in the days when the NCAA field was less than half as big as it is now.

Poythress's role set to change

With Noel's injury, Alex Poythress may no longer spend much, if any, time at the '3' spot. And that could serve him well.

"Alex's circumstance is tougher than people realize," noted Sporting News college basketball writer Mike DeCourcy, in a recent appearance on "The Leach Report" radio show. "Being a big small forward in college basketball is very rare. Those players usually have the most difficult transition, having trouble figuring out how to contribute. In reality, he's not really a college small forward - he's a power forward."

With Noel, Kentucky needed Poythress to play some '3,' although less lately than earlier in the season.

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