In a game that seemed to have one of the more consequential impacts in conference play than most, this game revealed some sides of teams we were not aware of, but some aspects that were less surprising.
The night was Kentucky’s. Not necessarily all Big Blue, but for the most part, that score reflects the taste that will be left in the mouth of Tennessee fans.
The first half, aka the PJ Washington show, was just about the affair we expected. With the scoring of Keldon Johnson, he and Washington combined for 26 in the first period. There wasn’t much to separate the two teams on the stat sheet, however. Kentucky turned the ball over more and was not as dominant on the boards as the Vols, but were able to out shoot Admiral Schofield and company. At the half, Kentucky lead 37-31.
Whatever message was engraved in the heads of the Wildcats at half time was one of the more effective speeches that John Calipari has ever given. Kentucky came out of the gates firing, leaving Vols coach Rich Barnes to call a timeout only 53 seconds into the half, which his team started so lackadaisically. However, Barnes’ one-minute rally was not the same and the run continued, ultimately ending at a 13-0 run out of the break.
The Wildcat’s lead would peak at 24 and although they had the inspiration of Duke’s fantastic rally at Louisville, Tennessee did not seem to be making much of an effort to get back into the game. Kentucky seemed to be more forgiving.
In the first half, Tennessee shot a whopping zero free-throws, but they had 18 shots from the line in the second half. A string of these easy give away fouls, a couple on three pointers, inspired a 13-0 run by the Vols. These efforts never cut the deficit down to single digits and it didn’t seem that the lead was ever going to be in too much danger. It is an odd statement to say, seeming as they were facing the #1 team in the country, but if Kentucky were to get as careless as they seemed at some points after amassing a lead, they would let a team like Duke or Michigan right back into it.
So, let’s talk about where Tennessee stands. They are even with LSU on top of the SEC, a game ahead of Kentucky. In games versus ranked opponents, they fall to 1-2, with a loss to Kansas and then #1 Gonzaga being their other results. In every match-up against unranked opponents, they have handled business and protected their name, but it is safe to say that people will be questioning the toughness of Tennessee moving forward. LSU will host them next Saturday in a chance for us to again examine where they stand. To give perspective of the respect that they still deserve, when Kentucky fans tried to start the “overrated” chant, Calipari instantly signaled for the crowd to quiet down.
Last Tuesday, the Wildcats lost a nail biter against LSU and had us all questioning what this Kentucky squad was made of. Maybe LSU deserves more respect, because that Kentucky team today looked like they had the ability to really turn it on when they needed to. Time will tell in two weeks when these two teams meet again, but at the moment Kentucky really has the momentum and schedule that looks most advantageous.