KNOXVILLE — With Kentucky foundering, DeAndre Liggins stuck a couple of defiant dunks in Tennessee's face Sunday.
When his teammates joined the fight, Liggins resumed his customary role of spearheading UK's defense.
"I let the guys know in no uncertain teams DeAndre was the only guy to show up in the first half," UK Coach John Calipari said after a 64-58 victory over Tennessee. "He was by himself."
Calipari said television commentator Reggie Miller singled out Liggins in their post-game conversation. "He was the only one to show up in the first half," Calipari said of Liggins, "and he really guarded (Scotty) Hopson."
Hopson, Tennessee's leading scorer, came into the game on a roll. In the previous six games, he made 51 of 98 shots and averaged 23.7 points. Against UK, he made two of 10 shots and scored 13 points, his lowest total since getting 11 at Kentucky last month.
"Kentucky just threw good defensive schemes at me," Hopson said. "It's not just Liggins. I fouled him out, so it's not just Liggins."
But Calipari gave Liggins credit for taking an aggressive approach to the game from the start.
"DeAndre was the only one to go out there and say, 'I'm ruining your day,'" the UK coach said. "'This is you and this is me.' You've got to take these personal challenges, if you're a competitor."
Tale of two halves
Hopson acknowledged that Kentucky took the initiative throughout the second half.
"They played more aggressively," he said. "They played a lot tougher. They got to the 50-50 balls."
In running down the difference from first to second half, Calipari noted how Brandon Knight was "sloppy" with the ball in the first half, Darius Miller "pitiful" and "soft" and Josh Harrellson a contributor of "absolutely nothing till the last three minutes."
Calipari prescribed a dose of soul-searching as a cure.
"They don't want to admit they got their butts kicked," he said of previous poor performances. "That's the problem. ... This isn't X's and O's. This is you competing."
For the second time this season, Miller dunked. That tied him with Jon Hood on UK's list of dunks and, apparently, gave assistant coach John Robic something to appreciate. "Coach 'Robes' is always getting on me," Miller said. "So I looked at him when it happened."
When asked what message he intended with the glance at Robic, Miller said, "I don't know. I just looked at him."
UK used all but one available timeout during the first half. So Calipari told UK players to allow themselves to be tied up in a held-ball situation rather than call the last timeout. That way, the Cats would get the ball every other time on the alternate possession.
Calipari wanted to save that last timeout for the final few minutes.
"He was basically saying we have no timeouts," Terrence Jones said.
With foul trouble looming, backup big man Eloy Vargas contributed three points, a rebound and seven minutes to UK's cause. That marked his most minutes since the first Tennessee game and only his second basket since the Cats played at Florida on Feb. 5.
Vargas' basket was a dunk, which prompted Calipari to quip, "He hasn't made those, now. That's the one that gets blocked by the 4-foot-8 guard. But he made that dunk."
Zone in future?
Calipari mixed in some zone defense with the customary man-to-man.
"See if we could confuse them a little bit," he said before adding, "I'm not sure it did. But it gave us a break. Maybe that's something we'll do."
Then Calipari added, presumably facetiously, "Maybe in the (SEC) tournament we'll play zone a whole game. Play a 2-3 zone the whole game. Act like I'm coaching."
Knight's three-pointers moved him out of a tie for the most by a UK freshman. He had been tied with Rex Chapman at 68. Knight increased his total to 71. ... Jones' 15 points and 12 rebounds marked his 11th double-double of the season. The only UK freshmen to have more are DeMarcus Cousins (20 last season) and Chris Mills (12 in 1988-89). ... Tennessee fell to 10-8 at home. That's the most home losses for the Vols since Kevin O'Neill's first season as coach in 1994-95.