UK Men's Basketball

Up 21, Kentucky falls to Tennessee 84-77 in Knoxville

Video: John Calipari after loss at Tennessee

Kentucky coach John Calipari talks to the media after his team blew a 21-point lead and lost 84-77 at Tennessee.
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Kentucky coach John Calipari talks to the media after his team blew a 21-point lead and lost 84-77 at Tennessee.

Kentucky Coach John Calipari’s repeated urgings to play with desperation and determination came to life at Tennessee on Tuesday night.

With a 21-point first-half lead gone, the Cats faced a seven-point deficit with barely three minutes left.

The three star guards — who else? — kept Kentucky in the game. In a 16-minute stretch of the second half, Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe accounted for 28 of the 33 points UK scored.

But like at Kansas on Saturday, Kentucky came up short at what Calipari calls “winning time.”

After the 84-77 defeat, Calipari had losing time on his mind. Again.

“We had them down 21 and they came back and beat our brains in,” the UK coach said. “You think about it. They ended up beating us by 30 (actually 28) in about 25 minutes.

“And it could have been 50. We have a long way to go.”

Tennessee scored six straight points to break a 70-70 tie.

With the deficit at 77-74, Robert Hubbs III beat Murray on a cut and scored a layup.

“There’s no way (that should happen),” Calipari said. “Not if your mindset is winning. ‘I’m watching this guy.’”

Tennessee sealed the victory by making five of six free throws in the final 40 seconds. That completed a 30-for-34 night at the foul line for the Vols.

“I’m just disappointed … ,” Calipari said. “We’ve got to do some soul-searching, individuals and as a staff. We have to look at ways to make this team get better.

“But, we are what we are.”

Kentucky, which fell to 16-6 overall and 6-3 in the Southeastern Conference, got 21 points from Murray and 20 from Ulis.

In the first half, Kentucky never trailed and led by as much as 21 with less than six minutes left.

Tennessee made only four of its first 21 shots and seemed incapable of dramatically improving that percentage given the many no-chance floaters thrown at the basket.

“If my team gets up 10, it’s like 100-2,” Calipari said. “So this is me coaching a different kind of team.”

Calipari all but said the Cats got lackadaisical.

“We’re up 21 (and) possessions don’t matter, right now with certain guys on the team,” he said. “‘It’s only one play.’ ‘It’s only two plays.’ ‘It’s only three plays.’

“All of a sudden, it’s a six-point game and you’re in a dogfight.”

Kentucky led 42-36 at halftime. Excessive fouling by UK sparked Tennessee’s 23-8 run in the final 5:32. In that span, the Vols made 13 of 13 free throws.

The turnaround was stunning. Tennessee, which led the SEC in free-throw accuracy in league games (82.1 percent), shot only two free throws in the first 14:28.

With Alex Poythress leading the way, Kentucky dominated early and appeared headed for a cruise to victory. Poythress scored 10 of his 12 first-half points inside the first 10 minutes. He’d hit double figures only three times in the previous nine games, but he made good use of the pick-and-roll and even posted up for a nifty left-handed shot in the lane.

Kentucky never looked crisper than when assuming its largest first-half lead. With three seconds on the shot clock, Briscoe took the inbounds and drove about 30 feet to a layup that put the Cats ahead 34-13 with 5:47 left.

Tennessee, which had the third-worst Ratings Percentage Index (No. 122) among SEC teams, looked beaten.

Kevin Punter, who led all scorers with 27 points, accounted for seven points in a 10-0 run that brought Tennessee within 34-23. The rush continued as Kentucky scored only one field goal after Briscoe’s layup.

Given Tennessee’s recent history, a Kentucky victory still seemed likely. Tennessee led seven of its last eight games. In those seven games, the Vols won only four times.

Tennessee kept charging early in the second half. Twice UT got within three of Kentucky before the first TV timeout. UK’s lead hadn’t been that slim since the 16:30 mark of the first half.

As Kentucky wobbled, Tennessee took its first lead when Detrick Mostella hit a three-pointer with 14:07 left. That gave UK a 56-54 deficit to ponder during a timeout six seconds later.

Good fortune smiled on UK, who tried to counter with Poythress in the post. The ball slipped out of his hands as he rose for the shot, but he passed to Ulis, who hit a three-pointer.

As Kentucky went scoreless for almost five minutes, Tennessee regained the lead and expanded it to 68-63 with seven minutes left.

Two Ulis free throws tied it at 70-70 with 5:16 left, setting up the dramatic stretch run.

Find stats and line score from the Kentucky-Tennessee game.

Jerry Tipton: 859-231-3227, @JerryTipton

TENNESSEE 84,

No. 20 KENTUCKY 77

KENTUCKY

Min

FG-A

FT-A

R

A

F

PT

Ulis

38

3-10

12-14

0

5

5

20

Briscoe

30

5-10

0-1

8

3

4

10

Poythress

17

6-9

2-4

5

1

5

14

Murray

36

7-20

4-4

5

5

1

21

Willis

35

3-8

0-0

8

0

3

8

Lee

20

1-1

0-0

3

0

3

2

Labissiere

11

1-2

0-0

2

1

2

2

Matthews

3

0-0

0-0

0

0

1

0

Hawkins

10

0-2

0-0

0

0

2

0

Totals

200

26-62

18-23

36

15

26

77

Percentages: FG .419, FT .783.

Three-point goals: 7-22, .318 (Murray 3-12, Ulis 2-4, Willis 2-6).

Team rebounds: 5.

Blocked shots: 4 (Labissiere 3, Lee).

Turnovers: 11 (Poythress 4, Willis 2, Murray 2, Labissiere, Briscoe, Ulis).

Steals: 2 (Ulis 2).

TENNESSEE

Min

FG-A

FT-A

R

A

F

PT

Punter Jr.

37

7-19

10-11

3

3

2

27

Moore

38

5-11

7-8

13

4

4

18

Schofield

28

2-6

6-6

8

2

2

11

Alexander

12

0-1

0-0

1

0

1

0

Baulkman

13

1-3

0-0

0

0

2

2

Hubbs III

25

2-6

4-6

4

0

2

8

Mostella

29

4-7

3-3

2

3

1

13

Reese

5

0-1

0-0

1

0

1

0

Phillips

13

2-2

0-0

2

0

4

5

Totals

200

23-56

30-34

37

12

19

84

Percentages: FG .411, FT .882.

Three-point goals: 8-19, .421 (Punter Jr. 3-8, Mostella 2-3, Phillips 1-1, Moore 1-2, Schofield 1-4, Baulkman 0-1).

Team rebounds: 3.

Blocked shots: 3 (Mostella 2, Phillips).

Turnovers: 8 (Moore 3, Punter Jr. 2, Schofield, Alexander, Hubbs III).

Steals: 3 (Moore 2, Punter Jr.).

Kentucky

42

35

77

Tennessee

36

48

84

A—19,295. Officials—Karl Hess, Ron Groover, Keith Kimble.

Next game

Florida at Kentucky

4 p.m. Saturday (CBS-27)

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