The curse of the second half once again reared its ugly head as Kentucky blew a golden opportunity to upset No. 11th-ranked Tennessee, losing 82-71 on Saturday at Rupp Arena.
Leading by 10 points with 12 minutes to go, Kentucky went into another deep scoring drought, scoring just 13 points the rest of the way to lose to Tennessee for the third time in four games at Rupp Arena.
Offensively, Keion Brooks had a breakout game, leading the Wildcats with 23 points and 11 rebounds. Olivier Sarr and Devin Askew each added 14 points respectively, with Askew playing one of his better games, going 5-of-7 from the field with just two turnovers in 33 minutes of action.
The Wildcats had one of its best first halves of the season, going on a 12-2 run to end the first half en route to a 44-34 lead at halftime.
In the second half, a Tennessee three-pointer cut the lead to 50-46 before Brooks scored Kentucky’s next six points and an Askew steal led to a break away dunk by BJ Boston to get the lead back to 10 points at 58-48 with 11:58 remaining.
The Volunteers would then go on a 12-0 run to take a 60-58 lead under the 9:00 mark. After exchanging leads, Tennessee hit a pair of free throws to go up 66-64 before back-to-back Kentucky turnovers resulted in a lay-up and two free throws on the way to a 10-0 run that gave the Volunteers a 74-64 advantage with 3:57 remaining. Askew hit two free throws to stop the bleeding with 3:13 left, but it was too little, too late for a comeback.
Keion Brooks came up big in the first half, going for 11 points and seven rebounds to set the tone for what looked like a potential marque win against a ranked opponent.
After missing the first 10 games with a calf injury, the 6-foot-7 sophomore entered Saturday’s contest averaging 10.1 points and 5.3 rebounds and may have finally inserted himself as that “go-to-guy” the Wildcats need down the stretch. Sarr and Askew also played well at times and the offense did show signs of better spacing and ball movement in the opening half. However, the curse of the final four minutes still lingers as the Cats are running out of time if they hope to build any end-of-year momentum.
Kentucky, 5-12 (4-6), returns to action against Arkansas on Tuesday night at Rupp Arena.