The Vols came up short, falling 74-66 to the Kentucky Wildcats at Rupp Arena despite a stellar start that had them firing on all cylinders and generally doing no wrong. Jarnell Stokes was more than the terrific player he's been, he was the beast we'd been imagining since he stepped those big 20s on campus. Unfortunately, Kentucky closed the gap late in the first half, grabbed the lead, and then extended that gap in the second, and Tennessee never recovered.
In some respects you have to be encouraged by the flashes of awesome the team displayed for the first 12-13 minutes. As I said, Stokes was a monster, and Jeronne Maymon was the perfect complement inside. The smalls, led by Jordan McRae and Josh Richardson, were the perfect complement to the inside game, hitting shots that were open because of the focused attention inside and driving for buckets and to otherwise make good things happen when appropriate. Even the somewhat surprising lineup of mostly (all?) backups fairly early in the game paid dividends for Cuonzo Martin. Basically, everything was working, and it was working against a really good team.
But in other respects, you almost have to be disappointed at how things fell apart and therefore at the lack of consistency this team too often shows. They'd been hitting 36% of their three-point attempts, but today were 2 of 13 (15.4%) despite having the inside game working so hard to provide open opportunities. They'd been hitting 70% of their free throws, and although they hit that average today, they missed the five most crucial attempts late in the game, which sent the contest careening off into end-of-game, desperation foul territory.
But this was Kentucky, and this was Rupp, and this was only Day 1 of 15, and 14 days of the most crucial part of the season remain. If the team plays like it did for the first 13 minutes at Kentucky and does so consistently, they will be just fine.