UK Men's Basketball

Kentucky cruises past Tennessee, 73-61

Kentucky Coach John Calipari shook hands with University of Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl, who returned Tuesday night from an eight-game suspension in the game against UK at Rupp Arena.
Kentucky Coach John Calipari shook hands with University of Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl, who returned Tuesday night from an eight-game suspension in the game against UK at Rupp Arena.

The usually verbose John Calipari said so much with three little words after Kentucky beat Tennessee 73-61 Tuesday night.

"We showed toughness," Calipari said.

At long last, after getting metaphorical sand kicked in their faces again and again this season, the Cats grabbed the tough rebounds, got the loose balls and took the initiative.

No doubt it had to help facing a Tennessee team playing its third game in six days, but Kentucky played with a sense of urgency that breathed life into one of Calipari's favorite phrases: Refuse to lose.

Losing two straight games for the first time since March of 2009 helped give Kentucky the heretofore missing zeal.

"I think it brought everybody back to earth," Josh Harrellson said of the losses to Mississippi and Florida. "It got everybody off cloud nine. I think we're all together now."

Harrellson's 16 points marked only the second time he'd scored double-digit points in a Southeastern Conference game.

DeAndre Liggins, whose 19 points equaled a career high, said the losses strengthened Kentucky's resolve.

"It woke us up," said Liggins, who scored double-digit points against an SEC opponent for only the fourth time in his career. "We had a tough practice (Sunday), which we needed. Coach was mad. Everybody was mad."

Kentucky improved to 17-6 overall and 5-4 in the SEC.

Tennessee fell to 15-9 and 5-4. Melvin Goins led the Vols with 16 points. Scotty Hopson, who missed the last two games because of an ankle sprain, scored 11.

Kentucky did not get off its season-long roller coaster. The thrill of dizzying heights and the stomach-to-the-throat dips continued.

Controlling the early going, Kentucky built a 33-14 lead with less than six minutes left.

But that proved plenty of time for Tennessee to rally. By halftime, UK's lead had shrunk to 35-28, which was the closest the Vols had been since the 9:28 mark.

Hot shooting got Kentucky off to a good start. The Cats made five of their first six three-point shots. A trey by Brandon Knight gave UK the lead for good at 8-5 with 15:19 left in the first half.

Back-to-back three-pointers by Doron Lamb in a 34-second span gave Kentucky its first double-digit lead. The second trey put the Cats ahead 27-13.

The lead reached its first-half zenith at 33-14 on a put-back by Harrellson with 5:51 left. Tennessee, which made only five baskets (in 20 shots) in the half's first 14 minutes, equaled that total in the final 5:16.

When UK went scoreless on five straight possessions (three resulting in turnovers), Tennessee closed within 10, 35-25.

Calipari called timeout with a minute left. It did not help. After Darius Miller missed a three-pointer, Josh Bone hit a three-pointer from the right corner with three seconds left to set the halftime score.

Bone, a senior guard who did not score against Alabama last weekend, scored five in the half. He finished with 13, marking his first double-digit scoring total of the season.

The good Kentucky returned at the start of the second half, maybe the most aggressive and assertive UK of the season.

Within the first five minutes, the Cats piled up hustle play after hustle play. Not so coincidentally, the Kentucky lead expanded to 51-33 at the first TV timeout.

The first 90 seconds featured Kentucky taking the initiative. Twice, UK rebounded their missed free throws. Liggins missed, and Harrellson rebounded. The subsequent possession led to Harrellson missing a free throw, which Terrence Jones rebounded.

Later, Knight pounced on a rebound that UT's Cameron Tatum could not secure and laid it home.

Tennessee called timeout with 16:13 left and the Kentucky lead at 46-30. But Brian Williams missed a post-up shot, and Tatum missed a layup.

Rupp Arena erupted in cheers when Miller, the poster child for Calipari's call for more aggression, ripped a rebound from Williams.

Kentucky's lead reached 51-33 when Harrellson cut for a layup and three-point play with 15:16 left.

Then the roller coaster descended. Tennessee got as close as 52-42.

Again, UK's hustle plays made a difference. Harrellson's put-back on a third-chance opportunity eased the tension.

To instill toughness, Calipari had ordered the Cats to put on boxing gloves and punch a heavy bag.

"I showed them how to box, how to jab," he said.

Liggins called it a "mind-toughness thing. Jab-jab-jab, body shot." It worked this night, although Liggins took no credit for any boxing ability.

"I was bad," he said. "My left hand is weak. I punched like a little girl."

UK streaking

Kentucky earned its 30th straight home victory. The Cats went into the game with the nation's second-longest active home winning streak. Duke has won 32 straight home games.

The last team to beat UK in Rupp Arena was Georgia on March 4, 2009. The Dawgs won on Senior Day 90-85.

The all-time record for consecutive home victories is the 129 straight UK won from Jan. 2, 1943 to Jan. 8, 1955.

Calipari took a 28-0 home record into the game. That's the third-longest home winning streak for any UK coach in Rupp Arena. The record is 33 straight for Rick Pitino in 1992-94. Joe B. Hall won 30 straight in 1980-81 and 1981-82.

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