Three times during the postgame press conference, Kentucky head coach John Calipari quoted New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, saying, “You’ve got to do what’s right for the team, not what’s right for you.”
His team didn’t follow that advice, however, as the No. 4 Wildcats fell to an unranked Tennessee team 82-80 in Knoxville. It was Calipari’s second loss to the Volunteers in as many years.
In past games this season, Tennessee has been known to take teams that look much better on paper down to the final moments, only to lose in gut-wrenching fashion. Losses to Oregon, Wisconsin, Gonzaga and North Carolina are all examples.
This time, however, the script was flipped, as the Vols took hold of the game from the beginning, only to stomp their feet on the pedal once things got tough. Tennessee led by as many as 11, but in the last few minutes, Kentucky did what Kentucky does: claw back from the brink of defeat.
This time, it wasn’t enough.
After the game, Calipari gave credit where it was due, saying, “Tennessee was better than us tonight. They deserved to win the game.”
Robert Hubbs III led the Vols with 25 points, two of which came on a rim-rocking dunk that gave his team a commanding seven-point lead with 2:43 to go.
On Hubbs, Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes commented, “We wanted to put the ball in his hands. You’ve got to have a player that can make some tough shots.”
Hubbs wasn’t the only one making the tough ones, though, as Grant Williams’s jumper with 14 seconds to go iced the game for the Vols, making the score an all-but-insurmountable 80-75. Lamonte Turner’s two free throws put Tennessee at its final score, and while a last-ditch three-pointer by Kentucky’s Isaiah Briscoe made the score 82-80, it was already too late.
Malik Monk led the Wildcats with 25 points and three rebounds, followed closely by freshman Bam Adebayo’s 21 points and five rebounds.
Tennessee went 50 percent from three-point range, but its biggest advantage of the night came from the sidelines. In points off the bench, the Vols logged 37 to Kentucky’s meager four. They also beat the ‘Cats on the inside, notching 42 points in the paint to Kentucky’s 28. Finally, Tennessee committed nine turnovers, an amount that is only excusable when comparing it to Kentucky’s 14.
This time last year, the Vols came back from what was at one point a 21-point deficit to beat the Wildcats in Knoxville. After having maintained control the entire game on Tuesday night, Barnes gave his players an enormous compliment in saying, “The fact is, I thought our guys really deserved to win tonight. I thought for 40 minutes, that it’s the best we’ve played all year.”
The Vols play next on Saturday, as they face the visiting Kansas State Wildcats in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge.
Tip-off is slated for 2 p.m. ET, and the game will be shown on ESPN2.
Edited by Quinn Pilkey
Featured image by Craig Bisacre, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics