In a last ditch effort to get a resume building win, the Kentucky Wildcats welcomed the Tennessee Volunteers into Lexington to try and take down the No. 11 team in the country. Kentucky came out strong and took a solid lead into halftime, but they ultimately fell to the Volunteers 82-71.
Keion Brooks had a great game, leading the team with 23 points. Devin Askew and Oliver Sarr had 14 each. But 11 turnovers in the second half allowed Tennessee to take all of the momentum and capture the victory. This game was sort of a microcosm of this entire season. There were flashes of talent, some early dominance, but ultimately they could not play an entire game with the composure that it takes to win at this level.
On the season, the Kentucky Wildcats have shot less than 71% from the free throw line. But on Saturday, they upped their game and took advantage of the opportunities they had to shoot 89.5% from the free throw line for 17 points. This has been a critical statistic for most Calipari teams. His successful teams have shot the ball well from the charity stripe, and other seasons have ended with poor performances from there. This could be a huge step in the right direction if the Wildcats have any hope of winning the SEC Tournament to try and get a bid in the NCAA Tournament.
Kentucky has really has two Achilles heels this season: turnovers and poor shot selection. Against Tennessee, the Wildcats came out and only turned the ball over twice in the first half to take a lead into the break. However, the second half was a much different story as the Cats turned the ball over 11 times and basically game the gave away between the 10 and five minute marks.
Keion Brooks had a great first game back this season. At Florida, he had 12 points and six rebounds to spark the Wildcats to a big win. Since then, he has been up and down in his statistical contributions. But against Tennessee on Saturday, we saw peak Keion Brooks.
He scored 23 points on just 16 shots and had 11 rebounds to basically dominate the game for 30 minutes. This is the sophomore Keion Brooks that we all hoped to see this season, and that is exactly what this team needs right now. They need a guy they can go to for a bucket, and he did that at-will against this stingy Tennessee defense for most of the game. Of course, he was unable to get many looks down the stretch as the Volunteers ran away with it.
Kentucky was in a perfect position to win this game. They were taking care of the ball, taking good shots, and limiting Tennessee’s transition game. But in the last 10 minutes of the game they completely fell apart. Turnovers, a hero ball approach leading to bad shots, and silly fouls led to Kentucky completely giving this one away.
This team obviously has talent, but they do not have the composure or mental toughness to win when it counts. I completely agree that this year is an anomaly in the Calipari era, but if nothing changes this is an issue that could haunt the program for years. They need strong leadership on the court, and Calipari has to recruit guys that can stand up to the pressure of playing at Kentucky. He has always done great with that, but this season was a major swing and miss on that account.