On Saturday, Tennessee dismantled Kentucky in front of a crowd of over 21,000 and a national audience on CBS.

The 88-58 victory was the largest margin Tennessee has beaten UK by in the history of the series.

Both teams are on shaky ground when it comes to qualifying for the NCAA Tournament but are going in opposite directions.

UK is down Nerlens Noel – who injured his ACL against Florida last week – and is struggling to survive the remainder of the season.

Three weeks ago Tennessee was abysmal to watch. They lost at Alabama, won back-to-back games by one point, then lost at Arkansas and at home to Georgia. They failed to break 60 points three times during the five game stretch, too.
But with three weeks left in regular season, the Volunteers are starting to play their best basketball of the year.

"This is Tennessee basketball at the level we expect it to be," head coach Cuonzo Martin said.

To the Volunteers' credit, they have stuck it out and things are turning around.

"It was tough at times," Trae Golden said. "We weren't playing well, I wasn't playing well. It was hard coming to practice each day, but we told ourselves to stick with it and see where we go. And now here we are."

Sticking with the process of playing solid defense and hard-nosed offense, Tennessee has seen the payoff the last few games.

They've reeled off three straight wins – including the first two true road wins of the year – and playermakers are starting to live up to their potential.

"Now we have guys playing as advertised," Martin said.

Golden is playing as well offensively during this stretch than he has at any point during the year, Jordan McRae continues to score the basketball consistently, and Jarnell Stokes is dominating opposing forwards in the paint.

For the first time all season the players that Martin and the Vols rely on are all producing at the same time. And these are the results.

Tennessee might be on the outside looking in at the tournament field when the committee makes their decisions, but the team is hardly concerned with that.

They are approaching the recent success the same way they took on their early season struggles, by working each day to continue to improve and grow.

"It's a great win but we still have work to do," Stokes said. "We'll be in the gym on Monday preparing for the next game."

— Austin Bornheim is a senior in journalism and electronic media. He can be reached at abornhei@utk.edu or followed on Twitter at @ABornheim.