Rightfully so, the Kentucky Wildcats had bragging rights over the Tennessee Volunteers after the first time the two teams met.
However, on Saturday, the Volunteers responded accordingly behind their home crowd to even out the regular season series. Kentucky jumped out early but that was the closest they’d come to victory in a 71-52 defeat at Tennessee.
Bone and Williams Claim Revenge
‘Twas the Grant Williams and Jordan Bone show on Saturday afternoon, as the two combined to score 51 points on 18-28 shooting in leading the Volunteers to victory. Kentucky had no answer for either player, as Bone sank shots all over the court and Williams lived at the free throw line.
In the the first meeting between these two teams, both players “got theirs” but Kentucky was able to land larger punches at the offensive end to claim victory. This Saturday, though, that was far from the case.
If and when these two teams meet again, Kentucky will need to game plan much better for the Volunteers.
Thanks to the stellar play of PJ Washington inside, Kentucky has mostly been able to hide their lack of offensive chemistry from the point guard position. Freshman starter Ashton Hagans has been worse than inconsistent over the last month and Saturday wasn’t any different.
Whether he was missing wide open shooters or turning the ball over, Hagans didn’t provide much of anything for Kentucky in terms of a positive perspective. With Washington picking up a couple of fouls halfway through the first half, Kentucky’s offense lagged so terribly that the Wildcats at one point connected on just one of their 15 field goal attempts.
This was easily the worst offensive game Kentucky has had this season. Some of the credit goes to Tennessee, but far too many of Kentucky’s misses were quality shots that the Cats simply weren’t hitting. There is no excuse for this, even with Travis sitting out.
Needless to say, head coach John Calipari has a few significant issues to fix.
Wings Couldn’t Contribute
Entering Saturday’s game, freshman shooting guard Tyler Herro was coming off a career-high 29 points against Arkansas. While the high point total was spectacular, shooting 9-10 and scoring that many points on such few shots was even better.
The last time Kentucky and Tennessee met, Keldon Johnson poured in 19 points and specifically sparked a three point clinic to sustain the Wildcats’ lead.
However, on Saturday, the two vanished when the pressure began to amount. Kentucky’s wings combined to shoot 4-19 and score just 13 points. Against elite competition, wins will be difficult to achieve if Herro and Johnson play as poor as they did on Saturday.
Wildcats May Be In Trouble
Starting center Reid Travis has left a hole in Kentucky’s lineup that very well may be irreplaceable. While EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards bring an increase in athleticism to the lineup, Travis and his physicality had implanted a culture of toughness that Kentucky desperately needed on Saturday.
With a heavy amount of fog surrounding his injury, Travis could end up missing more time than anticipated. In that case, Kentucky needs to find their identity when he’s off the court if they wish to win multiple games this month before the NCAA tournament begins.
We thought this was a great team that could overcome an injury to one player, but this past week made it clear that simply isn’t the case. This can still be a very special March for Kentucky, but it’s become clear they need everyone healthy to win 4+ games in the Big Dance.
Heading into the final week of the SEC regular season, Kentucky (24-5) will first travel to Ole Miss (19-10) on Tuesday before returning home to host Florida on Saturday. Tuesday’s tip-off is set for 9 pm EST with Saturday’s set for 2 pm EST.