Tennessee hadn’t played a ranked opponent in over two months before taking on Kentucky on Saturday. And it showed.
The No. 1 Vols (23-2, 11-1 SEC) got manhandled against No. 5 Kentucky (21-4, 10-2 SEC) on Saturday night in Lexington, falling by a score of 86-69. At halftime, Tennessee trailed by just six despite not attempting a single free throw in the first half of play and the Wildcats shooting 59.3 percent from the floor.
Then, Kentucky came out on fire to start the second half, and that’s when they ran away with it.
Kentucky scored the first 14 points of the second half, and they took a commanding 20-point lead just three and a half minutes into the second half. That spurt to start the final half of play was the deciding factor. They pushed their lead all the way up to 24 points at one point, and they never led by fewer than double digits after that point.
Tennessee cut the Wildcats’ lead to 11 after going on a 13-0 run, but Kentucky responded and put any sort of comeback to rest.
The Wildcats outscored the Vols 49-38 in the second half, and they held Tennessee to just 40.7 percent shooting in the game. Kentucky shot 54.7 percent as a team, and they attempted 33 free throws and made 23.
Here are our five biggest takeaways from the sobering 12-point loss for the Vols against Kentucky.
Vols Didn’t Run Their Offense
Tennessee’s offense is predicated on ball movement and getting good looks because of that. Against Kentucky, their offense was all out of rhythm.
The Vols took a lot of quick shots against the Wildcats, and Kentucky’s length on the interior prevented Tennessee from penetrating to the basket consistently. And Tennessee picked a bad game to have an off shooting night.
Typically, the Vols don’t shoot a lot of three-pointers, but they’ve been pretty effective when they do shoot them. Tennessee had made just over 40 percent of their threes over their last six contests heading into Saturday’s game against Kentucky.
On Saturday, the Vols made a mere 28 percent of their 25 three-pointers. Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner were a combined 0-of-11 from distance. Three of Tennessee’s made three pointers came from Grant Williams and Yves Pons. Jordan Bone was 3-of-4 from behind the three-point line.
Not only that, but Tennessee’s ball movement was lackluster at best. The Vols totaled a season-low 11 assists on Saturday. Their previous season-low was 12 assists against Missouri on January 8th and against Georgia Tech on November 13th. Kentucky totaled 14 assists on 29 made buckets.
The Vols didn’t have a ton of turnovers, only giving it away nine times. But they weren’t getting their offense set up the way they usually do, and they couldn’t work the inside-out movement they typically do.
Just Too Physical
Usually, Tennessee is the more physical team when they’re on the court. That’s been the case in pretty much every game they’ve played this season.
It was a completely different story on Saturday.
Both teams played a physical game on Saturday night, but Kentucky came out with more fire and more strength. Their length and their will was just too much for Tennessee.
Kentucky out-rebounded Tennessee 39-26 and held the Vols to just 20 points in the paint. The Wildcats, meanwhile, scored 36 points in the paint.
Kyle Alexander only played 18 minutes and fouled out of the ball game. Grant Williams only attempted four field goals, but he went to the free throw line nine times.
Bodies were hitting the floor time and time again on Saturday night, and far too often those bodies were wearing orange instead of blue and white. Tennessee got pushed around and bullied, and they didn’t respond well to that.
A Two Man Show
The Vols were lit up by two Wildcats in particular on Saturday night.
PJ Washington and Keldon Johnson were on fire against Tennessee. They combined for 42 points and were 17-of-26 from the field. Washington kept making hook shots in the paint, and Johnson was deadly from three. Washington finished with 23 points and missed just three of his 12 field goal attempts. Johnson was 3-of-6 from three, and he hit three of UK’s five three-pointers.
Tennessee’s dynamic duo of Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield scored a combined 33 points, but Schofield fouled out late in the second half and was only 7-of-18 from the floor, including just 1-of-6 from three.
Plus, UT’s supporting cast outside of Jordan Bone was non-existent.
Bone totaled 19 points and six assists, but the rest of Tennessee’s roster outside of Bone, Williams, and Schofield scored a combined 17 points on just 6-of-24 shooting.
Rupp Remains a Nightmare
Tennessee’s horrible luck in Rupp Arena continues. They entered Saturday’s game having never won back-to-back games in Rupp since the arena opened up prior to the 1976-77 season, and that dubious streak continued after Saturday’s game.
The Vols won 61-59 in Rupp Arena last season, but they let the old ghosts get to them this season. Tennessee fell to just 5-38 all-time in Rupp Arena, and they’re now just 17-91 all-time against Kentucky in Lexington.
Kentucky has still never lost back-to-back games in Rupp Arena in the John Calipari era. The Wildcats lost to LSU on Tuesday, 73-71, but they avenged that loss against the Vols with a 17-point win.
End of the Streaks
The Vols had several streaks come to an end with the loss to Kentucky.
Tennessee’s program-record 19-game winning streak ended, as did their 15-game regular season SEC winning streak. The Vols’ eight-game road winning streak also came to an end.
The Vols’ run atop the AP Poll will also come to an end come Monday’s updated poll.