KNOXVILLE — Jodie Meeks' record-breaking scoring performance partially obscured a significant Kentucky victory Tuesday night.
UK's 90-72 win at No. 24 Tennessee sent a seismic shock through the Southeastern Conference. No longer do the Vols stand as an overwhelming favorite to win a second straight regular-season championship.
Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl saw Kentucky's victory as a compelling reason for a new read on the SEC race.
"You get a win like that in our place, it's a pretty convincing read," he said. "There's no question our guys wanted this. We played hard most of the game. They played great."
In his three-plus seasons as Tennessee coach, Pearl had suffered only three home losses until Tuesday night.
The Vols had won 16 straight home games against SEC teams. Because of several veterans returning and the addition of a highly regarded recruiting class, Tennessee received 23 of 30 votes in a pre-season media poll picking the SEC champion.
Kentucky got two votes to become champion and was picked to finish a distant third in the Eastern Division.
An opening-night loss to Virginia Military Institute seemed to confirm UK's status as an also-ran. So did the continuation of a streak of losses against ranked teams that reached six games.
Then Kentucky beat No. 24 Tennessee.
"Huge win," Patrick Patterson said. "It means a lot. Everybody says they were the best team in the SEC. People doubted us a lot. We put that all in the back of our minds. ...
"It's a huge motivation for us down the stretch because we have a bunch of road games coming up."
Meeks led the way with 54 points, which broke Dan Issel's school record for points in a game: 53 against Mississippi on Feb. 7, 1970.
In an impromptu news conference after the game, Meeks put his individual brilliance into a team context.
"I was just trying to do anything I could to win the game," he said.
Meeks also noted that Kentucky had not won at Tennessee in his career.
His father's presence in Thompson-Boling Arena made the game more special, Meeks said.
"It's really special," he said before adding, "Every time he comes, I have a big game."
Like son, like father. Orestes Meeks noted how his son's scoring helped Kentucky win a big game.
"I'm just happy the team won because that was the most important thing," he said. "We really needed a signature win, and it was just nice to get that."
Orestes Meeks also echoed Patterson's comment about the victory washing away pre-season doubt about Kentucky and faith in Tennessee.
"All those folks who said this is automatically going to be Tennessee's to win," the UK player's father said, "and Kentucky isn't competitive. Well, guess what? Kentucky can compete, and we're going to be fine. We're going to be just fine this year."