No. 23 Tennessee (10-4, 1-2 SEC) took down No. 17 Kentucky (12-3, 2-1 SEC) by a score of 76-65 to register its first SEC win of the season. Junior Admiral Schofield and sophomore Grant Williams combined for 38 points, 17 rebounds, eight assists and six steals in the Vols upset win over the Wildcats.
Kentucky seemed to have Tennessee all, but spiraling after one half of play, as the Wildcats led 37-29 at halftime. The Wildcats shot a smooth 56 percent from the field and 50 percent from beyond-the-arc at half. Meanwhile, the Volunteers shot 33 percent from the field and committed eight turnovers.
A pair of Wenyen Gabriel 3-pointers put Kentucky on a 9-0 run with 7:51 remaining in the first half. However, Schofield knocked down a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to three with just over four minutes remaining in the first half. Still, the Wildcats were able to pull away, entering the half on a 9-4 run.
“Coach Lanier did a good job of, because he scouted the game, showing us 11 points that came off of not following our scouting report,” said Barnes about what changed after the first half.
“They’re going to make some baskets, just like we make baskets, but you don’t want them making the ones where we fail to execute our game plan.”
The game plan that Barnes and his staff used clearly worked, as they were able to flip the script in the second half. Tennessee outscored the Wildcats 47-28 in the second half, and shot a remarkable 55 percent from the field. The Vols were able to come out of the gates quick with a 6-0 run that closed the deficit.
A layup from Kentucky’s Nick Richards put the Wildcats up 47-44 on Tennessee, but what followed would be the turning point in the game. The Volunteers answered by logging nine straight points and going on a 16-3 run that put them up 10 points with just over eight minutes remaining. Late foul trouble for the Wildcats, as well as an injury to Kentucky’s star play played in favor for the Vols.
The Wildcats had five players that finished with over three fouls in the contest and two that fouled out. Gabriel, who had 11 points in the game, fouled out with 12 minutes remaining in the game. Starting Kentucky forward PJ Washington (13 points), who was clearly the best player on the floor, went down early in the second half.
“As soon as we had PJ out of the game, we had no shot at winning because every one of their players at that point was tougher than our guys,” said Wildcats head coach John Calipari. “When PJ went down, they saw the wounded animal and went right at it.”
The loss of Washington was just enough to let Tennessee hold on to the win. The Vols were able to make their free throws as Schofield slammed home a massive dunk with 23 seconds left to put a nail in the coffin for Kentucky. Tennessee out-rebounded the Wildcats 37-30, which is the most they have been out-rebounded by all season. Also, Tennessee recorded assists on 23 of its 25 baskets and had an assist rate of 92 percent on the night.
“We are Tennessee. Nobody respects us. We haven’t done anything, we haven’t won anything, and we haven’t been in the tournament in years,” Schofield said. “We have to just go out and compete every night, no matter if we are ranked or not because it’s just a number.”
Edited by Ben McKee
Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics