KNOXVILLE — To draw attention to the fight against breast cancer, Tennessee's Lady Vols wore pink against Kentucky.
The color of the uniforms was the only thing delicate about the Lady Vols on Monday night.
Before the game was even 21/2 minutes old, 5-foot-9 UT guard Meighan Simmons went all Anthony Davis and blocked a Keyla Snowden three-point attempt with ferocity.
With 12:56 left in the first half, Tennessee forward Glory Johnson tried to save the ball by going all Justin Verlander and rifling a fastball into the prone body of Kentucky star A'dia Mathies, who was lying out of bounds.
It earned UT a technical foul. It also sent a big message.
Behind 25 points from Simmons and 18 from Shekinna Stricklen, No. 13 Tennessee obliterated No. 7 Kentucky 91-54 before a rocking crowd of 14,807 in Thompson-Boling Arena. The victory pulled traditional league titan UT (18-7, 9-3 Southeastern Conference) within one game of SEC-leading UK (21-4, 10-2) with four games to play.
"Our team is not feeling very good, feeling embarrassed," Kentucky Coach Matthew Mitchell said afterward. "But what a great performance by Tennessee, very energetic, hitting on all cylinders. Impressive."
For the first time ever, UK and UT faced off in women's basketball with the Wildcats the higher-ranked team. For one of the few times in a series long dominated by Tennessee, the Lady Vols were in "revenge" mode against UK after the Wildcats' 61-60 victory over UT last month in Lexington.
"We lost to Kentucky by one, and we wanted to show them that in our house, that wasn't going to happen," Tennessee's Johnson said.
The first women's basketball game ever shown in 3D (on ESPN2) was a full-scale horror movie for UK.
UT came out in an active 2-3 zone, and it confounded the Cats.
It didn't help when Kentucky's second-leading scorer, standout freshman Bria Goss, picked up her second foul with 18:21 left in the first half and sat out the remainder of half one.
Without her as a secondary scoring threat to help Mathies, UK missed its first eight field-goal tries and 12 of its first 14 shots.
UT sprinted out to leads of 10-2 and 18-6. Bernisha Pinkett gave UK a lift with five points off the bench, and the Cats made a brief run to pull within seven, 25-18. But Tennessee unleashed a 14-0 blitz to open a 39-18 advantage and effectively put the game away.
The only drama in the second half was whether UT was going to beat the No. 7 team in the country by 40 points. To add injury to insult, a Johnson elbow inadvertently (I think) smashed Mathies in the face in a scramble under the basket to send the Kentucky star to the bench with a trainer holding a towel to the player's nose.
Mathies finished with 12 points. It was a far cry from the 34 (including the game-winning basket) she hung on UT in Lexington.
"Mathies had a lot to do with our defeat against Kentucky," Tennessee associate head coach Holly Warlick said. "She was a focal point for us. ... We were aware of her, where she was, and we wanted to make sure she took tough shots."
What has been a joy ride of a Kentucky season has now come to a bit of a crossroads. The Cats are on a two-game losing skid with the second being the kind of blowout loss one does not expect from a top-10 team.
There is now a book on how to defend Kentucky. Tennessee's was the second straight 2-3 zone that has flummoxed the Cats. Louisiana State also employed one in UK's 61-51 loss in Baton Rouge. Kentucky can count on a steady diet of more 2-3 zones until the Cats show they can attack one.
"Obviously, we are struggling quite a bit on offense," Mitchell said. "We haven't really been a real good 'execution team' anyway, and we've run into two long, athletic teams packing in a zone and standing in the lane making us make tough plays and tough decisions."
Rather than dwell on the mauling in Knoxville, Mitchell said, he planned to shatter the DVD of the game "into a 1,000 pieces and ... just move forward."
The fact remains that the Cats are still in control of their destiny to win the SEC championship. Win road games at Alabama on Thursday night and at Mississippi State and claim testy home contests with Vanderbilt and South Carolina, and it will be UK, not UT, that wears the mantle of league champs.
As horrid a night as Kentucky had in Knoxville Monday, if someone had offered Mitchell and his team the above scenario before the season, they'd have taken it in a millisecond.