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Kentucky 66 Tennessee 48 - Cold as Ice

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The Vols put themselves in great position to take Kentucky to the wire, but missed every three they attempted in the second half and the Cats pulled away.

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

We've seen this movie time and again with Kentucky:  the Vols play really well for about 32 minutes, and end up with a result that looks like a blowout.  It usually happens in Rupp Arena; tonight was the first time in more than a decade the disparity between these two teams allowed for the possibility of moral victory in Thompson-Boling.

The Vols trailed just 35-31 at halftime after an exceptional offensive display in the first 20 minutes.  Kentucky's defense created more contested looks in the second half, which is in part why the Vols started settling for more threes and didn't make any of them in the second 20 minutes.  But a strong defensive stretch for the guys wearing white kept the Vols close:  a Kevin Punter score made it 48-44 Kentucky with 9:08 to play.  Two free throws from Devin Booker extended the lead to 50-44, and then Andrew Harrison intercepted a lazy pass by Punter to make it eight.  On their next trip down the floor, Kentucky got a four point possession thanks to a free throw, an offensive rebound, and an and-one putback by Karl-Anthony Towns.  Down four with 9:08 to play.  Down a dozen with 6:54 to play.  So it goes against Kentucky sometimes.

Really, this felt like a Kevin O'Neill game against some of Rick Pitino's equally amazing Kentucky squads:  make it slow, make it ugly, don't turn the ball over.  Donnie Tyndall's zone was even more inviting to shoot threes on by design tonight, and Kentucky took the bait:  5 of 22 from the arc, including just 2 of 9 from Devin Booker who scored 18 points but shot 5 of 16 from the floor.

But Tennessee couldn't do their part from the arc, going 2 of 17 (11.8%) and making zero in the second half.  Kentucky just has a way of impacting shots even if they don't block them that you can't fully appreciate until you see it against your team and notice the subtle differences.  Josh Richardson created some of the looks he usually gets, but his release was forced to be a hair early or late, and he went 4 of 14.  Robert Hubbs was 1 of 6.  Armani Moore was 2 of 7.  Kevin Punter was the brightest spot from inside the arc, 7 of 7 from two...but he was 0 of 5 from three.

Still, the gameplan and the effort deserve a round of applause.  13 of Tennessee's 48 points came from its bench, including six from Devon Baulkman and five from Tariq Owens.  And the Vols, despite their size disadvantage, went to the offensive glass as hard as ever, getting 19 offensive rebounds (to Kentucky's 17).  Tennessee is actually quite good at getting offensive rebounds, a combination of its primary emphasis from the previous coaching staff and Tyndall sending Armani Moore, Derek Reese, and others crashing in on the backside.

Kentucky moves to 26-0, and the only place we might see them again is in Nashville.  The Vols drop to 14-11 and fall below .500 in the league for the first time all year at 6-7.  There are five games left - at Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, at Florida, at LSU, South Carolina - and the Vols need wins to play themselves into the NIT conversation.  There is no doubt Tyndall is doing a great job with what he has this season...the Vols just need to turn a few more of these great efforts into wins down the stretch.