Date story published: Sunday, February 18, 1996
KNOXVILLE -- A game at Tennessee used to mean almost certain defeat for Kentucky. The Cats routinely hit rocky bottom as the band played "Rocky Top." But not this year, when the Cats have more fun on the road than Hope and Crosby. Even in Knoxville.
Kentucky thumped Tennessee 90-50 and once more made the spectacular appear routine. "Another great performance on the road," said UK Coach Rick Pitino, sounding like a man running out of superlatives. "We've played well on the road. This is a continuation of that good play."
In winning their 21st straight game, the Cats increased their average margin of victory on the supposed tough Southeastern Conference road to 27.2 points.
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Ho-hum for Kentucky was painfully historic for Tennessee, a team as solidly lodged in a rebuilding project as the Cats are in the national championship picture. The Vols suffered the most lopsided home-court defeat in school history. The previous mark came in the Calvin Coolidge administration, a 51-17 loss to Kentucky in the 1925-26 season.
"That was apples and oranges playing out there," Tennessee Coach Kevin O'Neill said. "There's that much difference. I'm just glad it wasn't 120 (points for Kentucky) or something like that."
Tennessee's grinding style of play more than its level of talent concerned Kentucky. The Cats, 22-1 overall and 12-0 in the SEC, came through with the good shooting necessary to set up its press and discombobulate Tennessee. UK made 48.4 percent of its shots, second-best accuracy this season against a Vols defense ranked seventh nationally in points allowed (60.3 ppg).
Kentucky surpassed the previous high point total for a Tennessee opponent -- 79 by UNC-Charlotte -- with more than four minutes left. The Cats topped the 61 points they scored against Tennessee in Lexington last month with more than 14 minutes left.
"The difference between 60 and 90 is, in Lexington they missed enough shots to keep it at 60," O'Neill said. "Today, they made the shots."
Led by Antoine Walker and new starting point guard Anthony Epps, Kentucky jumped on Tennessee early. The Cats made six of their first seven shots and led by 10 inside the first five minutes and by 22 with seven minutes left in the half.
Walker dominated inside, scoring 10 of his 13 points when UK raced to a 36-14 lead. He also provided an artistic flair to the rout. He took a pass and put down a reverse dunk. Later, he maneuvered for a nifty left-handed hook along the baseline.
"I've got that capability," he said with a smile in the happy Kentucky locker room. "You doubting my skills?
"Today I was trying to go inside. I know they don't have a tall 4-man (power forward)." Most of the game, 6-foot-4 Damon Johnson played power forward for the Vols.
Pitino conceived Epps' return to the starting lineup as a means of getting Kentucky off to a quick start. "Brilliant coaching move, huh?" Pitino said with a self-deprecating chuckle. "Our ball movement and offensive execution the first 13 minutes was absolutely outstanding."
With Tennessee reeling and the many UK fans in Thompson-Boling Arena well into a celebratory mood, the Cats eased off. Or "got complacent," as Derek Anderson termed it. "We got lackadaisical," Epps said.
Whichever, on the strength of three straight three-pointers, Tennessee reduced Kentucky's lead to 13 by halftime.
"At the half, I thought if we played well the first five minutes (of the second half) we would be in decent shape," O'Neill said.
Forget it. The Cats, who endured some heated halftime rhetoric from Pitino, scored the first 17 points of the second half. Tony Delk, who scored 10 of his team-high 14 points after halftime, had eight of the points.
"We were a little upset with the defense," Pitino said of halftime. "Our deflections were low. We were winning with offense. Nothing wrong with that. (But) we really got after it and made up our mind and played great defense. I told them the only way this team (Tennessee) will beat us is if they outrebound us or we give up threes."
Despite two timeouts to gather itself, Tennessee did not score in the first five minutes of the second half. The Vols' first basket -- a jumper by freshman Rashard Lee -- came with 14:50 left. UT had only six points in the half until the 9:12 mark.
The rest of the game only served to reinforce the already obvious difference in ability between Kentucky and Tennessee.
"They have All-Americans upon All-Americans," said center Steve Hamer, who got off only seven shots and led Tennessee with 13 points. "Most of their guys will play at the next level. In the NBA or overseas.
"We don't have all the glitz and glamour and glory right now. We just have to do the best we can do. If doing your best isn't good enough, what else can you do?"