Saturday February 16, 2013

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Kentucky players have had three days to digest the impact of Nerlens Noel’s season-ending knee injury.

The 25th-ranked Wildcats’ Southeastern Conference game at Tennessee on Saturday will be their first gut check since enduring the enormous setback.

The star freshman forward tore his left ACL in Kentucky’s 69-52 loss at Florida on Tuesday night. The devastating injury will mean a new rotation for the young Wildcats (17-7, 8-3), who struggled to develop chemistry this season even with the nation’s top shot-blocker on the floor.

Besides raising their games to offset the loss of Noel’s contributions on both ends of the floor, Kentucky players must do it quickly to slow Tennessee (13-10, 5-6). The Volunteers have won four of their last six behind forward Jarnell Stokes, who has posted six straight double-doubles.

For the defending national champions, the task is building the resolve and performance to meet challenges that extend beyond this weekend.

How differently Kentucky plays, coach John Calipari couldn’t say Friday because the team hasn’t practiced much since Noel’s injury. But he sounded curious to see what adversity brings from his roster.

Calipari doesn’t expect Cauley-Stein to copy Noel’s all-around averages of 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.4 blocks per game.