Today in Knoxville, the Kentucky Wildcats and Tennessee Volunteers went at each other hard, but Tennessee won despite a huge run by Kentucky that got them from down 13 to tied at 65 each. But in the end, the Volunteers prevailed, sending Kentucky home to lick their wounds for only the second time this year.
Congratulations to the Volunteers, they really needed this win badly, and they got it with outstanding execution for most of the game in the half court, particularly in the first half. UK took away most of that around the middle of the second half, but as so often happens, when a team is down by 15 or more points in the second half, the energy required to get back is most often too much to get it done. The Volunteers also did a nice job of making several late plays and made some big free throws to seal a narrow victory.
Kentucky hasn't lost many this year, but this is a game in which Tennessee's excellent offensive execution was the biggest reason for the win. Kentucky shot the ball very poorly, but much of that was due to a Volunteer half-court defense that Kentucky never did solve. I know there will be a tendency to bemoan the officiating (and I truly loathe Tony Greene), but from my viewpoint, the missed calls mostly evened out, and I was keeping that score closely. So let's all focus on the reality, which is that Tennessee outplayed us, especially very late in the game, and that's what won them the game. The rowdy and loud crowd today really helped them, also.
John Wall reminded everyone why he is so great. Even when he is in the throes of an abysmal shooting game, he can always make layups, and get them when nobody else can. Defensively, John Wall reverted to early season form, but offensively, this was a blowout without him.
- DeMarcus Cousins was a non-factor for at least 60% of the game, but in the other 40%, he made a major impact with yet another double-double.
- Patrick Patterson played well, but we could have used more from him.
- Darius Miller has the distinction of being the player that got us back in the game, and the guy that produced the unforced turnover that surrendered it to the Volunteers. It happens. Overall, he was invisible in the first half but huge in the second half.
- Eric Bledsoe had a pretty good first half, but suddenly lacks confidence in his perimeter shot. He also had a ton of trouble with the bigger Vol guards off screens.
- Darnell Dodson failed to connect with the rim all game. I counted at least two airballs, and none of his other shots were even close to going in. He is quickly becoming a non-factor, mired as he is in a multi-game shooting slump.
- Daniel Orton, for the first time in a long time, did not play particularly well.
- DeAndre Liggins gave us some energy in the first half, but never really got into the flow in the second.
- Free throws did not cost us this game. We did a great job getting to the line.
- Kentucky could not stop Tennessee in the half court. Our defense just wasn't there. Some people might be inclined to blame tired legs after the quick turnaround from a Thursday game, but I'm not buying that excuse.
- The Wildcats' transition defense was truly abysmal, by far the worst it has been all year. There are no words that I can use to properly explain how abjectly despicable and loathsome the UK transition defense was. We simply conceded Tennessee about 10 dunks or layups. This is the one, truly major breakdown that UK experienced today.
- This team must learn to make perimeter shots, or our life in the NCAA tournament will be short, indeed.
- I was very impressed by the screening from the Tennessee Volunteers. They set great baseline screens and ran UK players into them all game long. It was a clinic, and should provide plenty of film-room fodder.
- The Vol fans were great -- loud, rowdy and yet they refrained from throwing water bottles, small animals or babies onto the floor. Great job by the Thompson-Boling crowd making this a memorable game, even if it is a bad memory for the 'Cats.
- The Volunteers have knocked off the #1 and #2 team this year in Knoxville. Pretty good tournament resume, if you ask me.
Well, ladies and gentlemen of the Big Blue Nation, this was just a tough one. The Wildcats played hard, but couldn't throw it in the ocean from a rowboat. That sometimes happens, and it was due in no small part to the Tennessee defense forcing Kentucky to settle for shots that UK can sometimes shoot at a low percentage. The 'Cats got on the glass and made free throws, and didn't even turn it over too much, but the Volunteers were just dominant offensively today.
Next, we remain on the road to play a Georgia team that gave UK no end of trouble in Rupp Arena, and has been very close to knocking off many of the SEC's top teeams. This will be another tough spot for the Wildcats, and they will have to bring their A-game to defeat the Dawgs in their own back yard.