Tennessee (13-13, 5-8 SEC) fell to 1-12 away from Thompson-Boling Arena on the season in an 80-70 loss to No. 14 Kentucky (20-6, 9-4 SEC) on Thursday evening at Rupp Arena.
Here are five quick takeaways from the Tennessee loss:
1. Willis breaks out: Two Kentucky players really hurt the Vols in this contest. One – Jamal Murray (28 points) – was no surprise, but the other – Derek Willis (25 point) – was. Willis easily had the best game of his career, surpassing his previous career high of 18 points by hitting 7 of 11 from 3-point range in the contest. Tennessee didn’t have consistent defense against him, and even when he was covered up, the 6-foot-9 Kentucky native, who was seldom used in his first two seasons in Lexington, still connected. The Wildcats have a history of unexpected players breaking out against the Vols, and Willis was the latest to do so.
2. Ulis locks down Punter: It’s telling that Kevin Punter can finish the night with 19 points and still be considered off his game a bit, but UT’s main offensive threat was incredibly quiet early, scoring just two points in the first half as Kentucky built a lead. He bounced back for a solid second half (17 points), but some of that came after the game was largely out of reach. The Vols needed a special night from Punter to have a shot in this one. Credit Kentucky guard Tyler Ulis, who is playing at an SEC Player of the Year level right now, for locking Punter down on a night where his own shot wasn’t falling consistently on the other end. Rick Barnes did tell reporters after the game that Punter’s battling an ankle injury, so that could’ve been a factor as well.
3. Baulkman goes down: Senior guard Devon Baulkman has been dealing with a bad shoulder for an extended period of time. It appeared to get even worse on Tuesday night when he got tangled up with a Kentucky player and went down in a lot of pain. After several minutes on the ground, he was helped off the court by trainers and didn’t return to the game. It’s too early to speculate much about it, but it didn’t look great. He’s been gritty this season, and the Vols, already short on depth, hope he’ll be able to return in the near future.
4. Decent fight on the road: Even though the Vols got the win over the Wildcats on Feb. 2, there weren’t many expectations for a team that has been so dismal on the road this year. Few go into Rupp and get a win, especially teams with as many flaws and road issues has UT has shown this year. But while they didn’t get the win, the Vols played better than some – including myself – thought. The Wildcats won their last three games by an average of 27 points per contest, so a complete beat down could’ve been in order. Instead, the Vols battled, kept it respectable and actually were more competitive than Florida, South Carolina and others against UK. Nobody wants a moral victory, but as poor as UT has been away from Thompson-Boling this year, Vol fans will have to take what they can get.
5. Moore is a bright spot: After a couple quiet performances in UT’s last two games, Armani Moore played one of his best offensive games of the year at Rupp, recording his fourth double-double of the season with 21 points and 11 rebounds. Outside of Moore, and Punter’s 19 points, the Vols didn’t have anybody score more than seven points on the evening.
Final stats from the Vols' 80-70 loss to Kentucky. Moore and Punter lead the way. pic.twitter.com/0bb6128iJG
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) February 19, 2016