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Three takeaways: Tennessee gets manhandled by Kentucky

Some postgame thoughts.

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee’s 19 game winning streak is no more. The No. 1 Vols fell at Kentucky on Saturday night, running into a team that perhaps played their best 40 minutes of the season. Kentucky was easily the superior team tonight, tightening up a three way battle for the regular season SEC crown.

Kentucky’s defense, physicality crushed Tennessee’s offense

From the opening tip until the very end of the basketball game, Kentucky was the more physical team tonight. That fact showed up in the rebounding and the points in the paint columns. For the first time all season, Tennessee’s opponent just wanted it more. The Wildcats ate the Vols up down low, working the offensive boards and putting home second chance points.

The Wildcats finished with a 39-26 advantage on the boards — a pretty telling stat. They also won the points in the paint battle 36-20.

Kentucky’s overall length bothered Tennessee, both in the post and on the perimeter. Jordan Bowden, Lamonte Turner and Admiral Schofield struggled to get separation all night long. Grant Williams scored 16 points, but never really established himself in the paint. Williams took just two shots inside the arc all night long, thanks to Kentucky’s suffocating defense.

The Wildcats collapsed on the ball anytime Tennessee got inside the arc, filling up passing lanes and causing turnovers. Kentucky racked up six blocks, contesting anything and everything at the rim with force.

It was a brilliant defensive performance from Kentucky, who very much looked like a team capable of winning it all just days after losing a home game to LSU.

Shots simply weren’t going down for the Vols

We just talked about Kentucky’s length giving Tennessee trouble, but some of this was just a simple case of cold shooting. Mainly from Turner, who ended the night shooting 0-7 from three-point range. Bowden finished 0-4, while Schofield was just 1-6. When you add these numbers up with the lopsided rebounding numbers, it’s pretty easy to see how Tennessee dropped this game.

Turner actually had decent looks for much of the night, he just never found his stroke. Bowden missed wide open opportunities in the first half while Schofield was pressing for much of the night, just trying to make something happen.

Jordan Bone knocked down three long range shots late in garbage time, but Tennessee couldn’t get anything to fall when the game was close in the first half and the opening minutes of the second.

It’s a tough pill to swallow, but the odds of Tennessee shooting that cold in two weeks in the rematch are probably pretty low.

Let’s talk about those referees...

Let me be crystal clear here. The referees didn’t steal this game from the Vols. I absolutely hate pointing towards the referees for any ounce of blame — especially in on a night where Tennessee got outplayed in literally every way possible. But it’s worth noting how one sided this game was called.

The Vols were whistled for ten more fouls than Kentucky was on Saturday night, putting Kyle Alexander and Admiral Schofield in foul trouble, both of whom eventually fouled out. Grant Williams was abused in the first half, hitting the deck a couple of times without calls.

Kentucky entered the bonus with 14:53 left to play in the second half. Tennessee shot their first free throws 24 minutes into the game. Being that the game was being played in Rupp Arena, you expect something like this.

Again, this wasn’t why Tennessee lost by 17 points, but it certainly didn’t help the Vols’ cause. And to be honest, Kentucky didn’t need any help tonight. It will be interesting to compare the two games after the rematch in Knoxville.