Tennessee thought it might have found something against South Carolina this past Wednesday while pulling off a 20-point win. But that performance certainly didn’t carry over to its matchup on Saturday against Kentucky.
The Vols (15-6, 8-6 SEC) seemed to score with ease during their last outing, but that wasn’t the case against the Wildcats. Tennessee started the same five on Saturday, as Josiah-Jordan James missed his second consecutive game due to a wrist injury. A Victor Bailey Jr. three-pointer in the first minute had UT fans thinking this game could look similar to Wednesday night. Unfortunately for the Vols, nothing looked the same.
As the second media break of the game came and went, the Vols were down 18-10, going 1-for-10 from the field during this stretch. Kentucky (8-13, 7-7 SEC) was on a 13-3 run, while the Vols hadn’t scored in almost four minutes. Things continued to trend south for Tennessee, as Kentucky went on an 18-3 run. It wasn’t just Tennessee missing shots, Kentucky was running the Vols down the court, with a 10-0 advantage in fast break points.
The Vols were 3-for-14 from inside the arc, while Kentucky stretched its run to 22-4. Tennessee seemed content with not driving the basket and settling for shots from beyond the arc. Though UT got 12 points from Victor Bailey Jr. in the first half, it wasn’t getting much help from anyone else.
As the halftime buzzer blew, Kentucky was leading 45-30. Tennessee was 11-for-30 from the field and outscored 16-10 in the paint. The Wildcats shot 61% from the field and weren’t having much trouble forcing the Vols into bad looks. When you continue to force ugly shots and not run your offense, this is what you can expect from this team.
One would think this team could figure out how to get inside the Kentucky defense, but they continued to struggle. At the first break of the second half, the Vols trailed 53-34, thanks in part to sloppy turnovers and ugly shots. Even as the Wildcats struggled to hit a shot, the Vols never took advantage, as they went almost seven minutes without a basket. Kentucky’s Davion Mintz continued to make the Vols pay, finishing the game with 15 points.
Kentucky was shooting just 17% from the field at the 8:37 mark of the second half, but the Vols never countered. Just as Tennessee cut it to a 15-point deficit at the 6:06 mark, Kentucky struck back hard. The Vols were 2-for-11 from the field during this stretch, as they continued to settle for poor looks.
The Vols were led in scoring by Bailey again, as he finished with 18 points. But, the main problem for this squad was John Fulkerson and Jaden Springer scoring a combined eight points on the day. Yes, Keon Johnson had 15 points, but this team is so inconsistent with their scoring that it hurts the overall flow.
Kentucky finished off the Vols 70-55 on Saturday afternoon in what was supposed to be a springboard game for Tennessee. The Wildcats shot just 20% from the field in the 2nd half, but the Vols countered that with 26% and 8% from the perimeter.
Tennessee backed up its win over an inferior opponent, with a bad loss to an inferior opponent. This is just an example of the inconsistency that has plagued this team all season. As the Vols continue to search for answers heading into tournament time, they continue to play like a team who could be bounced in the first weekend. When you don’t know which team will show up on any given day, it’s hard to predict the future. But with a performance like today, it’s not hard to understand why this group has so many flaws, with so many great players.
Next up, another inferior opponent in Vanderbilt. We’ll just have to wait and see which Tennessee team shows up Wednesday night.