Tennessee had beaten Kentucky four-straight times in Knoxville heading into Saturday’s rivalry game. But that streak came to an end on Saturday afternoon.
The Vols (13-10, 5-5 SEC) fell to the No. 15 Wildcats (18-5, 8-2) by a score of 77-64. Tennessee held the lead for just 21 seconds in the game, as Kentucky controlled the game for most of the contest. The Wildcats led by double digits for large portions of the game, and every time UT would cut the lead down to a respectable margin, Kentucky would go on a run and push it back to double digits.
Three different times in the second half UT cut Kentucky’s 10-point lead down to either four or five points. But every time, the Wildcats would find a way to pull back ahead and take control.
Santiago Vescovi scored a team-high 18 points on 4-of-11 shooting from three, and both John Fulkerson and Jordan Bowden scored 16 points apiece. Bowden snagged nine rebounds, and Fulkerson pulled down seven, though he got into foul trouble in the second half.
Kentucky had five different players score in double figures, and they were led by Immanuel Quickley’s 18 points.
Here are our three biggest takeaways from the Vols’ first loss to Kentucky in Knoxville in the Rick Barnes era.
Tennessee’s lack of bench production continues to be a problem, and it bit them big time on Saturday.
The Vols got a grand total of three points from their bench players against Kentucky, with Jalen Johnson providing the only scoring from UT’s bench. He was 1-of-5 for the game, with all of his shots coming from behind the three-point line. The rest of Tennessee’s bench players combined to shoot one field goal, and that was a three from Drew Pember.
Kentucky, meanwhile, got a big boost from their bench.
Johnny Juzang scored a career-high 13 points in 24 minutes off the bench. He was perfect from the field, making all four his shots, including all three of his three-pointers. Juzang was even perfect at the free throw line, making both of his free throws.
The Wildcats’ bench outscored Tennessee’s bench 17-3 on the afternoon. That, along with Kentucky’s ability to score down low, was the biggest difference on Saturday.
If it wasn’t John Fulkerson getting buckets in the paint, Tennessee really couldn’t do much down low on offense. Bowden scored on an alley-oop, and both Yves Pons and Uros Plavsic hit a couple shots in the post. But mostly, the Vols weren’t effective in the paint.
Kentucky outscored the Vols 38-18 down low, and UK won the rebounding battle 33-29. Tennessee managed to snag more offensive boards, getting 12 compared to seven for the Cats. But the Wildcats were able to survive that, and their absolute domination down in the paint was a big key to their victory.
Nick Richards finished with 15 points and seven rebounds and was a perfect 5-of-5 from the floor, and Keion Brooks Jr. snagged nine rebounds to go along with his four points in 25 minutes of action.
Couldn’t Take Advantage
The Vols won the turnover battle, got to the free throw line more than Kentucky (not in garbage time), and got more offensive rebounds and second-chance points. That would usually lead to a victory. On Saturday, however, that wasn’t the case.
Tennessee just couldn’t take advantage of Kentucky’s mistakes and the Cats’ foul trouble. Why? Because UT’s offense would go cold at the wrong times, and the Wildcats’ offense just couldn’t miss.
Kentucky made over 50 percent of their field goal attempts, but the Vols made just 34.5 percent of their overall shots. The only way Tennessee was getting points on the board consistently was by getting to the free throw line for the longest time. UT finally hit some shots from the field in the second half, but their cold streaks were too frequent.
The Wildcats turned it over 14 times compared to eight by UT. Kentucky was outscored 19-8 in second-chance points, and four different UK players finished the game with three or more fouls. Despite all that, Kentucky came away with a victory in Knoxville for the first time in half a decade.