In early March, guard play can carry a team a long way. Fortunately for the Tennessee Volunteers, they have one of the best point guards in the nation in Jordan Bone.
Bone finished with a career-high 27 points on 11 of 15 shooting - including 5 of 5 from three - and a suffocating defense put the Vols back on top of the SEC standings with just two games left to play.
Outside of a three-pointer from Bone, the first three minutes of the game couldn’t have started worse for the Vols. The Wildcats were out-hustling, chasing down loose balls, and were the more physical team as they opened with a 6-3 lead.
Tennessee opened 1 of 5 from the floor while Kentucky started off 2 of 3, but a nice runner from Bone in the paint gave the Vols the first lead of the game, 7-6.
A layup off a sick crossover from Bone stretched Tennessee’s lead to 9-6 and put the Vols on a 9-0 run. He had scored seven of his team’s nine points and on the flip side, the Wildcats had yet to score a single point in over 3:30 of play.
Kentucky was able to regain the lead thanks to an extremely questionable call on Lamonte Turner. Turner went to block Tyler Herro as he attempted a layup, but was called for contact. The replay appeared to show all ball, but regardless, Herro hit both free throws and UK now led, 12-11.
But Turner immediately responded with a jumper of his own to give the lead right back to the Vols. Herro came through once again with a nice layup as he penetrated the middle of the paint, but Admiral Schofield hit his first bucket of the night to put the Vols right back up, 15-14.
Tennessee had now shot 5 of 9 since the slow star, but had just one assist on six made baskets. Kentucky was just 2 of 6 and had three turnovers.
Both teams battled back and forth for a while until a Jordan Bowden three gave the Vols some breathing room in the form of a 23-18 lead. Despite the lead, the Vols had to find some more offense outside of Bone. He was 4 of 5 from the field while the rest of the team was 4 of 16.
UK continued the sloppy play, missing eight straight shots and committing three more turnovers before Schofield came through with a signature slam to push Tennessee’s lead to 25-18. It marked a 9-0 run and gave the Vols the largest lead of the game.
That is until Grant Williams sunk a trey about three feet past the top of the arc to increase the lead to 10 points and send Thompson-Boling Arena into a frenzy.
With 3:39 left in the first half, Kentucky had made just five field goals, but had six turnovers.
Things began to reach a boiling point for the Cats, evidenced by a technical foul called on head coach John Calipari after his reaction to a foul called on Richardson. Tennessee took advantage and increased the lead to 32-20, but what came next what a beautiful example of how to play basketball.
Williams found Bowden for a SICK alley-oop in transition thanks to a UK turnover to push the lead to 34-20. The top of TBA was about one decibel from lifting off and sailing into the Tennessee River.
The Vols eventually held and went into halftime with a 37-24 lead. It was the lowest amount of points that Kentucky had scored in the first half all season long.
The first half was a display of dominance from both Bone and the Volunteer defense. The Wildcats finished 6 of 26 from the floor with eight turnovers. Tennessee held them without a bucket for 9:32 in the first half.
Both teams struggled from the charity stripe, shooting 19 of 30 combined.
But the key for Tennessee was simple: continue to play defense and score in the paint, where the team held a 10-4 advantage.
It would be absolutely key for the Vols to come out and dominate the first five minutes of the second half like they did against the Ole Miss Rebels.
Tennessee outscored the Cats 10-8 over the first five minutes, but it was far from the performance that you would want to see.
Kentucky was able to compile a 7-0 run before a Bone three helped quell the charge and put the Vols back up, 50-34 with 13:45 to play.
Tennessee continued to pace the lead at 54-38 with 9:11 in the game. A consistent inside presence and good defense helped the Vols stay in front.
The Vols continued to lead by a wide margin of 59-41 with 7:21 to play, but Kyle Alexander fouled out, leaving the Vols in a semi-precarious position in the post.
But Grant Williams eased any worries with a last-second jumper as the shot clock expired to put the Vols up 61-42 with 6:31 left in the game.
Another trey from Williams matched the Vols largest lead of the game, 66-46 with 4:10 to go and it looked like the Vols had this one under wraps.
The Wildcats went on a 6-0 run to give themselves some semblance of life, but Bowden pulled the plug quickly with a steal that turned into a Volunteer basket that officially ended all Wildcat hopes thanks to a 68-52 lead with 1:20 to play.
The Vols would go on to finish out the game 71-52 in an absolutely dominating performance. They now sit atop the SEC standings as Kentucky falls to (12-3) on the season in conference play.
Tennessee (26-3, 14-2) hosts the Mississippi State Bulldogs (21-7, 9-6) in Thompson-Boling Arena on Tuesday, March 5th. Tip-off is scheduled for 9PM EST.