This was a big game for Kentucky. It was more than just a rivalry. It was the history they needed to make in order to continue to try for a perfect season. With a win against the Vols, Kentucky would pass their own school record for best start, which was set by their 1953-54 team.
Tennessee came into this game after suffering a bad loss to a good LSU team last week and wanted to avoid going on another two-game skid.
Both teams started the game poorly on offense. Three minutes into the action, the Vols led 1-0. Once both teams got into the flow of the game, momentum continued to go back and forth, and the score was tight. Tennessee was struggling to find good looks on offense but were still getting buckets to fall. They also were playing suffocating defense on the other end, as their match-up zone caused confusion for Kentucky, who still managed to secure a 35-31 halftime lead.
Devin Booker was the lead scorer for the Wildcats at the break. He shot 3-8 from the field and 4-4 from the free throw line for 11 points and also grabbed four rebounds. Andrew Harrison also had a decent half. He shot 3-6 from the floor for eight points. Kentucky shot 44.8 percent from the field and 4-13 from 3-point range.
Kevin Punter was the lead scorer for the Vols, and he was their main source of offense in the first half. He scored eight points on 4-5 shooting, most of his points on elbow jumpers. Tennessee had most of their roster contribute in the first half, as Derek Reese and Detrick Mostella were the only Vols who didn’t record a point in the first 20 minutes of action. The Vols shot 54.2 percent from the field and 28 percent from beyond the arc in the first half. Even with their shooting woes, Tennessee still outscored Kentucky in the paint 20-8. The Vols made it their mission to double-team Willie Cauley-Stein in the post whenever he touched the ball and held him to just three points in the first half.
Both teams came out of the break playing poorly again. They were giving up open shots on defense and were not converting on wide open looks on offense. The lead fluctuated from four points to seven points for the first 11 minutes of the second half, and the Wildcats held only a four point lead with nine minutes left in the game. Karl-Anthony Towns’ offensive rebound off of a free throw that was put back in for an “and one” spelled the beginning of the end for the Vols. From there, the Wildcats ran away with the lead, cruising to a 66-48 win over Tennessee.
Booker continued to score the ball in the second half, even though he shot a poor percentage. He finished the game with 18 points on 5-16 shooting and also grabbed seven rebounds. He also shot a perfect 6-6 from the charity stripe. Andrew Harrison scored 14 points on 4-10 shooting and also shot a perfect 4-4 from the free throw line. Overall, Kentucky went 41 percent from the field and 22 percent from beyond the arc.
Punter led Tennessee with 14 points on 7-12 shooting. He didn’t have any help on the offensive end, as the next highest scorer, Josh Richardson, shot 4-14 from the field for 10 points. Richardson also had three turnovers and only one assist. Tennessee could not hit shots anywhere tonight, even the free throw line, as they scored only 17 second-half points. The Vols altogether shot 37 percent from the floor, 11 percent from deep and 40 percent from the free throw line. Tennessee still somehow managed to outscore Kentucky in the paint 34-22.
Tennessee played a lot better than what most people were expecting, but it again didn’t translate to a win. When a reporter asked Kevin Punter if he was happy with the effort the Vols put in, he simply said, “we lost.” The Vols are done with moral victories and are impatiently waiting for more conference wins.
Tennessee will try to rebound in Ole Miss on Saturday.
Edited by Maggie Jones