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Kentucky Basketball: Takeaways from Wildcats' win over Volunteers

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The Cats were scorching hot from deep and used that to exact their revenge on the Vols.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time this season, Kentucky got a shot at a team that had previously beaten them as Tennessee came to Rupp Arena.

After the Cats blew a 21-point lead in Knoxville two weeks ago, everyone expected the Cats to jump out to a quick lead and mop the floor with the Vols this time around.

That wasn't the case initially as a cold-shooting effort by the Cats saw them struggling to pull away. Both teams were ice cold early on as they combined for just 17 points through the first nine minutes, but a quick 13-1 spurt allowed the Cats to jump out to a comfortable lead.

But the Vols would battle back and trim UK's lead to just 36-30 going into halftime. Despite the narrow lead, it never really felt like Tennessee was in this one, and that was quickly made true in the second half as the Cays opened the half on an 18-6 run to build their lead to 18.

The Cats would put it on cruise control from there and finish off the Vols en route to an 80-70 win. Here is a look at our quick-hitters from the game.

Murray's Hot Streak Continues

Jamal Murray is on some kind of tear. He looks as comfortable offensively as any UK player under John Calipari has looked. I would venture to say Jodie Meeks as a junior is the only other Cat in the past decade who looked as confident in his offensive abilities as Murray has in the past few weeks.

Against the Vols, Murray dropped 28 to go with nine boards and reached the 20-point threshold for the 11th time in 26 games as a freshman and the fourth-straight game. It's mainly been the three-ball falling at an ungodly rate for him, and combined with his driving ability, is making him as unarguable of a player as you'll find in college hoops.

Willis' Rise Reaches New Level

In the span of one season, Derek Willis has gone from seemingly-hopeless benchwarmer to spark off the bench before becoming a quality and stable starter.

He took it to a new level against the Vols and became a guy capable of carrying a team to victory. He was unconscious from three-point range, hitting seven of 11 from deep to finish with a career-high 25 points.

The rise of Willis has truly been fun to watch this season. It's not only given this year's teams a chance for a Final Four run, but also makes next year's team look even scarier as long as he returns for his senior season.

Cats Sizzling with 3-Ball

For most of the first half of this season, the three-pointer was more of a weakness than a strength for these Cats. Despite having guys like Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis who could light it up from deep, UK struggled to consistently get points from beyond the arc without taking too many shots there and often doing more bad than good shooting threes.

But that's changed in a big way recently as the Cats are cooking from deep, hitting 33 of their last 66 three-point attempts coming into this game. That continued against the Vols as they hit 10 of their first 19 three-pointers to build a lead UK would never relinquish this time around.

As mentioned above, Murray and Willis have both been stroking it lately. Along with Ulis, that's all UK has needed for this area to become a strength. The defense could use a little work and there needs to be some more consistent scoring options in the post, but for now, the three-ball is carrying the Cats.

Top 3 Seed within Reach

Amazingly, UK's six losses have not been enough to keep them out of the running for a top-three seed in the NCAA Tournament. Thanks to the struggles of just about every team in college basketball at some point this season, UK is still very much in the running for a No. 3 or even 2 seed in the tournament.

After beating Tennessee, UK is now 20-6 and ranked 14th in both major polls. Six teams ahead of them lost this week, two of which being 20-6 (Iowa and West Virginia). In fact, eight of the teams ranked ahead of UK have at least five losses. That's allowed the Cats to be able to get a much higher seed than anticipated if they end the season with just one more loss or even win out.

It's no secret the Cats have struggled mightily at times this season, but they're still in great shape going into March if they just take care of their business.

UK Now Controls SEC

While UK will need some help to get a high seed in the tournament, they now have complete control of their SEC destiny with five games left. With this win, UK now stands alone at the top with a 10-3 SEC record, a full game ahead of LSU and two games ahead of three others. This is the first time all season that the Cats have held first place all on their own.

Winning the SEC hasn't always been a big accomplishment with the conference struggling to put more than three teams in the tournament on an annual basis, but this league may very well have 6+ teams in the tournament this year. Winning that kind of league is a significant accomplishment, and UK is now poised to do just that.