LEXINGTON, Ky. – It was never really in doubt.
Kentucky (21-5, 11-2) jumped out to an early lead and never looked back, dismantling Tennessee (14-12, 6-7) by a final score of 83-58.
Here are five observations from Tennessee’s loss in Rupp Arena:
Early 3-point Shooting Sinks Tennessee
Kentucky was on fire from 3-point range in the first half. The Wildcats hit 5-for-11 from distance in the first nine minutes of the game, and would hit 10 total 3s in the first half alone. Malik Monk and Derek Willis had four apiece.
“Teams are going to hit shots regardless, but we didn’t limit them to the shots that we wanted them to take,” Admiral Schofield (17 pts, 7 reb) said after the game.
Tennessee, on the other hand, shot poorly in the first half after getting off to a solid start. Despite scoring the first five points for either team in the game, Grant Williams was held to just eight points on the night. None of those came in the second half.
The Vols didn’t have an answer for Monk early in the game, who tallied 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting by halftime. He’d finish with 20 points, his 15th 20-point performance of the season.
After trailing 5-0, Kentucky went on a 31-10 run in the next 9:45 of the first half, including an 18-3 run in the final 4:37 of that span. Tennessee would cut the lead to 11 with 4:52 left in the first half, but that was as close as the Vols would get for the remainder of the contest.
At one point in the second half, an Admiral Schofield and-one cut Kentucky’s lead to 13 with 16:13 to go. The Wildcats would then outscore Tennessee 23-9 in the next ten minutes, putting the game out of reach. Tennessee’s young players seemed to cave under the pressure of a Kentucky run on its home floor. Every time it looked like the Vols were about to make a push, the Wildcats would put the game out of reach in a hurry.
Derek Willis Made The Difference
Kentucky forward Derek Willis had four points in the Vols’ first matchup with Kentucky.
On Tuesday, he had 12 points on 4-of-4 shooting from behind the arc in the first half. Barnes said that Tennessee’s gameplan was to stop Willis, but the Tennessee defense didn’t have an answer for the sharpshooter off the bench.
Barnes said he told his team all week that it was essential not to let Willis or Taylor Gabriel beat them.
“We were willing to let the other players do what they have done,” Barnes said. “They got done what they wanted to get done…our key was not to let their four hit shots. You know Malik Monk is going to get his on a nightly basis.”
Schofield added that his team wasn’t tough enough on the defensive end.
“The exact thing we emphasized, we let happen,” Schofield said. “We let Willis have a big game, and that’s what happened last year as well.”
Willis finished the night with 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting. The line isn’t crazy impressive, but the damage was done in the first half behind Willis’ stellar shooting performance. By the team Willis cooled off, the game was far out of reach.
Kentucky didn’t keep pace with its 3-point clinic in the first half, but it didn’t need to. Once they had established the outside shot, Tennessee had to respect it. That opened up more room for Isaiah Briscoe and De’Aaron Fox to drive inside. Briscoe had 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting in the second half, and Fox added six points and two steals.
Turnovers Stifled the Offense
Tennessee was careless with the basketball all night long, hurting its ability to get back in the game in the second half. After Schofield cut the lead to 13, Kentucky went on a 6-0 spurt thanks to two Tennessee turnovers on two possessions.
Barnes was frustrated with how his team took care of the ball.
“On the offensive end, we turned it over when we normally don’t. When you break down the way we did on the defensive end, it shows that you’re a step behind both physically and mentally.”
UT finished the game with 13 turnovers and seven assists, a ratio that won’t win you any games on the road in the SEC, especially not at Kentucky. But don’t blame those mistakes on Jordan Bone. The freshman point guard scored 15 points and added two assists in one of his better performances since his career night at Vanderbilt.
At times, you thought Bone would take over the game for Tennessee in the second half, but Kentucky’s perimeter defense was too tough. Even when UT would string together some points on the offensive end, they would fail to get stops on the other side of the court.
To make things worse, the Vols only shot 35% on 18-of-51 shooting.
Schofield Was the Bright Spot
Admiral Schofield was the leader for Tennessee’s offense, scoring the majority of his points off of mid-range jumpers.
Schofield said his team looked like zombies on the offensive end, adding that they didn’t push the ball aggressively enough.
“We just tried jump shots, and we know that most of their points come off of transition,” Schofield said. “When you take jump shots, that leaves long rebounds and they get out and run.”
Schofield was 6-of-10 from the field and 5-for-5 from the line. He added seven rebounds and only committed one foul. Outside of Bone and Schofield, UT shot 7-of-33.
Schofield played a majority of his minutes at power forward in Tennessee’s win over Kentucky a few weeks ago. On Tuesday, he played all three forward positions, using his speed and quickness to his advantage on the offensive end. Kyle Alexander only played seven minutes in Rupp Arena. He saw the court for three minutes in UT’s win over the Cats, largely due to Schofield’s contribution in that one as well.
If Schofield, Williams and Hubbs can all be on their game at the same time, Tennessee has shown it can play with anyone in the SEC. But when Schofield is alone, the Vols look like a completely different team.
On that note…
Tennessee Can’t Win with 15 Combined Points from Williams and Hubbs
Robert Hubbs stayed in his slump, but Grant Williams’ poor performance magnified Tennessee’s interior deficiencies even more.
Hubbs is now 14-of-47 from the field in his last five games.
Barnes said that Kentucky did a good job targeting Hubbs, especially in the second half.
“They just went to work on him down low,” Barnes said. “He didn’t make the effort that he has to. They scored on him two easy times…Robert is better than that.”
Williams couldn’t conjure the same success from his 30 point performance on Saturday. He missed both of his shot attempts in the second half.
“We count on Grant and Robert to do their job night in and night out. They made it much harder than it had to be on themselves down there,” Barnes added.
Tennessee cannot get that little offensive production from its small and power forwards. In its win over Kentucky on January 24th, those two combined for 38 points and 13 rebounds. They had 15 and five on Tuesday.
The Vols return to action on Saturday back in Knoxville for a 1 p.m. tip against Missouri.