Photo slideshow: No. 7 Tennessee defeats No. 4 Kentucky 71-52 in Knoxville
What a difference two weeks can make. A fortnight after Kentucky blitzed Tennessee in Rupp Arena, the Vols returned the favor with a convincing victory in Thompson-Boling Arena.
Tennessee defeated Kentucky 71-52 on Saturday. That marked only the third time since 1992 that the Vols beat UK by a double-digit margin.
Only the margin seemed in doubt as Tennessee took the lead for good less than four minutes after the opening tip and led by a double-digit margin the final 22-plus minutes.
Even the star players reversed roles. As Grant Williams took only four shots in the first game, so PJ Washington took only six shots in leading UK with 13 points.
The loss dropped Kentucky into third place in the Southeastern Conference race going into the regular season’s final week. UK slipped to 24-5 overall and 13-3 overall.
Tennessee remained in a first-place tie with LSU, which won at Alabama earlier in the day. Both teams are at 14-2. The Vols improved their overall record to 26-3.
Point guard Jordan Bone, whom UK Coach John Calipari had complimented on Friday by saying he was an “attack dog,” led Tennessee. He scored a career-high 27 points.
The first half ended in a fitting way. After Grant Williams was called for walking as he started a drive with 5.3 seconds left, Ashton Hagans took the ensuing inbounds pass and dribbled down the middle of the court all the way to the basket.
But his reverse layup went over the top of the basket. Calipari put both hands on his head, which suggested, “what else can go wrong?”
Kentucky trailed 37-24 at the break. Poor shooting contributed to UK’s lowest scoring first half of the season. The previous low was 28 points: in the first game against Vanderbilt and against Arkansas on Tuesday.
If UK was going to repeat the second-half rally against Arkansas, better shooting was a must. In the first half, the Cats made only six of 26 shots (23.1-percent accuracy was a season low). UK made five baskets in the first half at Missouri.
Kentucky came into the game ranked No. 29 nationally in shooting (48 percent) and No. 2 in league games (47.7 percent).
Foul trouble, extra perilous with Reid Travis sidelined, surely contributed to throwing Kentucky off rhythm. Already playing without Travis, the Cats saw PJ Washington pick up his second foul with 8:23 left. EJ Montgomery picked up his third at the five-minute mark.
Then the third of UK’s three available “bigs,” Nick Richards, picked up his second and third fouls in a 42-second span late in the half. Both came while defending Williams, the first on a push as the Vols’ star caught the ball in the post, the second when Williams tried to finish a drive with a layup.
The latter call brought Calipari off the bench to protest, which resulted in a technical foul. Williams made three of four free throws.
The 15-point, second-half deficit that UK surmounted against Arkansas reappeared on the first possession of the second half. Bone’s pretty-as-you-please layup put Tennessee ahead 39-24.
UK’s deficit grew to 47-27 on another driving layup with 16:13 left. Calipari called time.
With Immanuel Quickley hitting a couple of perimeter shots, Kentucky rallied. The Cats got as close as 50-36, which prompted a Tennessee timeout with 12:49 left.
Momentum changed back to the Vols. Bone drove by Jemarl Baker for a layup. Then Richards picked up his fourth foul on a push in the deep corner trying for an offensive rebound.
After UK closed within 54-40 three-plus minutes later, Bone rose and hit a three-pointer from the top of the key over Quickley.
Kentucky got within 61-46 inside the six-minute mark. Schofield and Williams snuffed out any flickering hopes. Schofield drove by Washington for a layup. Then Williams made a three-pointer to put Tennessee ahead 66-46 with 4:18 to go.
No. 4 Kentucky at Mississippi
9 p.m. Tuesday (ESPN)