You always want to be playing your best basketball by the time the month of February rolls around. Unfortunately for the No. 19 Tennessee Volunteers (15-6, 8-6), that doesn’t appear to the case.
Tennessee was blown out by the Kentucky Wildcats (8-13, 7-7) in Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday. The offense had one of its worst games of the year, shooting a meek 32.1% from the floor a few nights after registering a 93-point effort against the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Victor Bailey Jr. led the team with 18 points after a few down games, so that was nice to see. But outside of his performance there weren’t really any other bright spots for the offense.
Kentucky only hit 40% of its shots, but managed to go 50% from downtown. A strong first half helped the Cats build a 15-point lead at halftime and they never looked back en route to the big win.
It was the Cats’ first win over a ranked opponent so far this year
It didn’t take long to get the scoring started as John Fulkerson was able convert an offensive board into a bucket to put the Vols up, 2-0, in the first minute of the game. Devin Askew tied the game up with a bucket of his own on the Wildcats’ subsequent possession, but Victor Bailey Jr. drilled a 3 on the Vols’ next possession to give Tennessee an early 5-2 lead.
The Wildcats were able to tie the game up thanks to a converted and-1 from Isaiah Jackson. Yves Pons stole the ball from the Cats a few plays later and turned into his first made shot of the game put the Vols back up, 7-5. About a minute went by before Davion Mintz hit a step-back 3 to give the Cats an 8-7 lead with 16:09 left in the first half.
But the lead didn’t last long. Keon Johnson stepped up with a 3 of his own to give Tennessee another one-point lead, but another Mintz 3 and a Jacob Toppin layup helped make it a 13-10 game in favor of the Wildcats. The 3s kept falling as Keion Brooks Jr. hit one of his own to increase Kentucky’s lead to 16-10. The Vols and Cats were a combined 5-for-8 from downtown with 13:06 to go in the first half.
Overall, the Vols were not shooting well during the first eight minutes of the game, evidenced by the 4-of-15 mark from the field. Kentucky, on the other hand, was 7-of-12 to start the game, including a 3-of-4 mark from downtown. A lot of Tennessee’s offensive issues were due to a Kentucky defense that was playing very well and forced four turnovers in the first 10 minutes of the game. All of sudden, a 15-0 Wildcat run and a 5:40 UT scoring drought had the Cats up, 23-10, until a Pons 3 ended the run and the scoring drought. But the Vols still trailed, 23-13, with 9:13 to go in the first half.
Kentucky’s lead grew to 30-14 and it looked like the Vols were going to go on a run themselves after five unanswered points, but the Cats defense settled down and the offense came through with some points to push the lead back to 34-19. The Cats continued to pour it on on both ends of the court and closed out the first half with a 45-30 lead.
The first half was a dominant performance by the Cats. They shot over 60.0% from the floor (17-of-28), that included a 66.7% mark from downtown. Tennessee finished the half with an abysmal 11-of-30 mark from the floor, but they were at least competent shooting 3s, evidenced by their 50% clip. Kentucky was also dominating on the defensive boards, where they held a 15-9 advantage. Both teams were having issues with turnovers, as well. Tennessee had eight in the first half compared to Kentucky’s seven.
Kentucky did not look like a 7-13 squad and Tennessee did not look like a 15-5 team. Would the Vols flip the script in the second half?
The second half did not start off well for the Vols as Kentucky came out and scored four unanswered points to give the Cats their biggest lead at 39-40.
Kentucky was able to keep its distance for most of the second half, but Tennessee found itself in position to make some noise down, 61-46, with 6:53 left in the game. The Cats wouldn’t allow it, however, and continued to make plays. The defense remained stout, as well, which allowed the Cats to make it a 66-46 game with 4:10 to go.
Tennessee’s offense never found its rhythm and Kentucky’s offense was able to do enough to close out the game. The Vols would go on to lose, 70-55.
The Vols are now scheduled to take on the Vanderbilt Commodores in Nashville, TN. Tipoff is set for Wednesday, February 24 at 9PM EST.
You can check out the final score and stats here.