Kentucky’s high-scoring offense hit some unexpected lows on Saturday afternoon as No. 7-ranked Tennessee avenged an earlier defeat with a crushing 71-52 victory over the Wildcats in Knoxville.
The Wildcats finished the game with more turnovers (17) than field goals (14) and scored the fewest points in a game this season. To make matters worse, the Wildcats experienced multiple offensive droughts and failed to score a field goal over a combined 16 minutes of play – 9:32 in the first half and 7:12 in the second. For the game, Kentucky was just 14-44 (31.8%) from the field, 5-19 (26.3%) from three-point range and 19-29 (65.5%) from the free throw line.
The loss all but eliminates any chance for an SEC regular season title as the Cats now fall to 13-3 in the conference with two games remaining (Ole Miss and Florida). Tennessee and LSU now share the conference lead with identical 14-2 records. The loss also impacts seedings for the Conference Tournament, scheduled for March 13-17 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
Tennessee was led in scoring by Jordan Bone, who had a game-high 27 points and dominated both ends of the floor. Grant Williams, last year’s SEC’s Player of the Year, finished with 24 points and seven rebounds. Kentucky was led by PJ Washington’s 13 points.
Kentucky scored the game’s first six points on a Washington free throw, Nick Richards dunk and Ashton Hagans three-pointer. The Cats would lead for the final time on a Tyler Herro basket to give Kentucky an early 14-13 lead before the Vols would go on a 24-10 run to lead 37-24 at halftime.
With the absence of Reid Travis, Kentucky’s interior defense was exposed early as foul trouble plagued the Cats throughout the opening half. Washington picked up his second foul at the 8:23 mark and did not return to action until the second half. The second half proved to be more of the same as the Cats struggled to find any confidence or offensive rhythm.
After the game, UK Coach John Calipari and select players met with the media to share thoughts on a frustrating result in Knoxville. Here is the recap of postgame comments, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics.
On not having Reid Travis having an impact on today’s game:
“It wasn’t that, they beat us. There are no excuses. We got beat every which way. Our young kids played like freshmen. They played like a deer in the headlights. The play where they walked and no call, and PJ got his second foul and I couldn’t play him in the first half. That was a huge play. I’m not saying the call had anything to do with it, but that play changed how we had to play in the first half without Reid.”
On Jordan Bone’s play today:
“He played great. He ran downhill on us. We were trying to run the same stuff and get our guy to run down hill. We didn’t quite accomplish it. He also made runners. Our bigs were getting out of the way too fast. They didn’t trust the people behind them. When you are playing that kind of basketball, the big has to stay and trust someone behind him is going to help him. They ducked out and Bone went down and shot a lot of layups.”
On the possibility of his team regressing:
“No, this is one game. They have not lost here in two years. For us to win without Reid, we were going to have to play one of our best games in the past 10 years. As soon as I saw how it started and when PJ got his second foul, I was like, ‘okay, how do I make this close.’
“I was angry because it was a 14-point game and we had three possessions. We had a chance to get the lead down to seven or eight. There was only one guy thinking we could get it down to seven or eight. Me. I asked them way they would think that way.
“Turnovers, PJ threw one in the seats. Tennessee deserves this. It was a great win on national television. It’s amazing, now they will say that we aren’t that good. When we beat they, they said they weren’t that good. When they beat us on their court where they haven’t lost in two years, now we aren’t that good. This is college basketball. When you are playing freshman and sophomores, you have games like this. These kids are not machines. They are not robots. Sometimes, they play bad and sometimes the other team is more inspired to play and they beat you.”
On worrying about this loss costing his team a No. 1 seed:
“No, because other teams have lost, and they have moved up in the poll.”
On the difficulty of guarding Jordan Bone:
“He is a really good guard. He is fast and quick. He was able to get to his spots. He is experienced too. He knew where to be on the floor and how to get his teammates the ball. He really led his guys today.”
On Tennessee’s play today:
“Like I said, there are no excuses, but I’m sure they had revenge on their mind. I think any team that plays us is going to be ready to play us, just because we are Kentucky. We are always going to have that target on our back. We just really didn’t match their energy today.”
On the game today:
“We just didn’t bring energy from the jump. They brought more energy than us. We didn’t execute our offense and our defense wasn’t how it usually is. We just weren’t ourselves today. It was a bad game.”
On each team possibly seeing each other again this season:
“We will definitely see them again. Obviously we will end up seeing each other in the SEC tournament. It will be a good battle. The rivalry is great. We are going to see them again soon.”