No. 3 Tennessee faces in-state rival Memphis
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Tennessee junior forward Grant Williams, the reigning SEC Player of the Year, and his teammates with the third-ranked Volunteers get the opportunity to experience the in-state rivalry with Memphis for the first time on Saturday.
"Everybody knows you have two in-state schools that have had great success in basketball," said Tennessee coach Rick Barnes, whose team is coming off an upset of top-ranked Gonzaga on Sunday in Phoenix.
The game between Tennessee (7-1) and Memphis (5-4) will be played in front of a sellout crowd at FedExForum in Memphis.
The once dormant series - which was halted in 2013 -- was revived when Barnes took over at Tennessee in 2015 and Tubby Smith arrived at Memphis in 2016.
"Everybody in the state knows and talks about it," Barnes said. "It had been a rivalry. When I got here, people asked about that game. Every time we went to Memphis for Big Orange Caravan, everybody said, 'Is there ever a chance we can start playing a game again?'
"It took time to get it because of where we were with our scheduling."
The programs reached a tentative agreement in November of last year, scheduling a home-and-home arrangement. Another game will be played in Nashville after the two-year series is complete.
In March, shortly after Smith's firing and Penny Hardaway's hiring as head coach at Memphis, the schools formally announced the series.
Memphis returns to Thompson-Boling Arena on a date yet to be determined next season. The game in Nashville will be on either Dec. 18 or 20, 2020.
Hardaway played against the Vols two times when he was an All-America guard for the Tigers in the early 1990s. He said he wants it to be so loud at FedExForum that he won't have a voice left to conduct his postgame media press conference.
"Competition is healthy, I love that," Hardaway said. "We have an opportunity to prove that we can play with anybody in the country. I'm not afraid to play anybody. I always want to play a good schedule so my guys know where they (stand)."
The Vols are led by the duo of Williams, who is averaging 19.9 points, 9.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game, and Admiral Schofield, who is at 17.9 points a game and 6.0 rebounds a game. Point guard Jordan Bone has 49 assists with only 15 turnovers in the first eight games.
During the first two months of the season, Memphis has encountered two ranked teams - No. 22 LSU and No. 20 Texas Tech. In each game, Hardaway's team, which features two freshman guards -- Tyler Harris and Alex Lomax -- in the starting lineup, has competed well.
Harris leads the Tigers averaging 16.2 points a game while Lomax is averaging 5.2 rebounds (despite being only 6-feet tall) and 2.7 assists a game.
Memphis led LSU 54-52 midway through the second half last month at Baton Rouge, La., before losing 85-76.
Against Texas Tech at American Airlines Arena in Miami earlier this month, the Tigers led the Red Raiders by eight with seven minutes left and were up by two with five minutes to go. Texas Tech rallied to win 78-67 and remain unbeaten.
"It has helped us tremendously to play at LSU and against Oklahoma State and Texas Tech," Hardaway said. "Everyone knows we had 34 minutes of great basketball and for a three-minute span they took over the game and never looked back. So those games are preparing us for games like Saturday."
Updated December 14, 2018