KNOXVILLE — In losing 74-65 at Tennessee on Saturday, No. 2 Kentucky put on display a familiar trait.
"We don't quit," Coach John Calipari said of UK's rally from a 19-point deficit to tie the score with barely two minutes left. "That's all I can ask of my team."
Kentucky trailed 40-29 at halftime, the team's largest deficit at intermission this season. That marked only the fifth time all season that the Cats trailed after 20 minutes.
UK erased the four earlier halftime deficits and won those games. The Cats needed better defense to rally this time.
Tennessee's 40 points marked the third-highest total given up in a first half this season. UK's previous 13 Southeastern Conference opponents averaged only 27.9 points in the first half.
Tennessee slipped slightly in the second half. But the Vols still made a relatively healthy 46.2 percent of their second-half shots (12 of 26).
"Just a bad defensive effort today," DeMarcus Cousins said.
Sophomore Darius Miller continued a recent upswing. Or at least contributed in a timely fashion.
After going scoreless in the game's first 32 minutes, Miller scored seven points in a three-minute span. Calipari noted how Miller did his scoring after being chastised by the coach.
"That shows me toughness," Calipari said. "He went back and made shots."
Of the team's 2-for-22 three-point shooting, Calipari said, "We've got to find that guy. I thought Darius Miller played well. He did good stuff."
Miller, who has scored 26 points in the last four games, dutifully credited his teammates. "They got me the ball when I was open," he said.
Darnell Dodson, the player perceived to be UK's best perimeter shooter going into the season, is fading. He missed all five of his shots (all from three-point range). That made him 2-for-20 in the last six games. He's made only two of 21 three-point attempts in the last seven games.
After noting that Dodson changed his shoes at halftime and took off the white headband he was wearing, Calipari suggested a way the player can gain confidence.
"The best way to get confidence is go defend, rebound, be tough on that floor, scramble, dive on the floor, make a layup, get fouled," the UK coach said.
Before and after
At 11:53 a.m., Calipari tweeted: "Our guys are ready for another SEC battle."
The Cats fell behind 18-4 barely six minutes into the game and never led in the final 35:59.
"I think we had a couple guys asleep," Calipari said in his post-game news conference. "They've never played on a team trying to win every single game."
Of his players' blasé attitude, Calipari said, "If you lose, you lose. Where do we eat?"
Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl noted the importance of good start.
"To beat the best teams, you have to hit them in the mouth first," he said, "and let them know you're there."
More PT for Harris
Calipari thought aloud about "probably" giving senior Ramon Harris more playing time.
Race not over
Vanderbilt won at Arkansas to pull within one game of Kentucky with two to play in the SEC Eastern Division and overall regular-season races.
In the final week, UK plays at Georgia on Wednesday and then home against Florida next Sunday. Vanderbilt plays at Florida on Tuesday and then at home against South Carolina on Saturday.
In games decided by fewer than 10 points, Tennessee improved to 10-1. Kentucky fell to 9-2.
When asked if the experience of beating No. 1 Kansas in an early-January game helped, UT guard Bobby Maze said, "It helped us a lot. We were not losing our composure. When they tied the game up, we could have easily gave up or gave in and said, 'Oh, Lord.' "
Tennessee's reserves outscored UK's 20-5. UK's reserves shot a combined 1-for-9. ... UK shot season-low percentages overall (35 percent) and from three-point range (9.1 percent). The Vols improved to 20-0 when shooting a better percentage and 19-0 when limiting the opponent to less than 69 points. During Bruce Pearl's tenure as coach, the Vols are 50-4 when the opponent makes less than 40 percent of its shots.