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© Randy Sartin | USATSI

Tennessee steamrolls Kentucky 71-52 in Knoxville

© Randy Sartin | USATSI

Well that wasn’t fun.

In their highly-anticipated matchup in Knoxville, the Tennessee Volunteers absolutely clobbered Kentucky by a final score of 71-52.

After jumping out to a 6-0 lead, the wheels fell off for the Cats, as they allowed a 7-0 run for the Vols to take the lead. From that point on, Kentucky held just one more lead the rest of the way (14-13, 12:42 remaining), with Tennessee running away with it.

UT’s lead ballooned to 10 with 2:59 remaining in the first half, which then turned to 13 at intermission.

After the break, the Vols hit three shots in the first 1:57 of the half to spread the lead to 17, which then turned to 20 at the 16:15 mark.

The Cats were able to cut it down to 14 on a few occasions, but could never take that next step to make it a game again, with the Vols finally pulling away to win 71-52.

Kentucky forward PJ Washington led the team with 13 points on 2-6 shooting to go with three rebounds, two assists, one block, and one steal.

In terms of other impact players, Nick Richards had a solid line of eight points, seven rebounds, one assist, and three blocks. Immanuel Quickley was also the only Kentucky player with more than two field goals, finishing the day with eight points on 3-5 shooting and four rebounds.

As a team, Kentucky shot just 31.8 percent from the field and 26.3 percent from three. They also turned the ball over 17 times.

For Tennessee, point guard Jordan Bone lit up the Wildcats for 27 points on 11-15 shooting and 5-5 from three, three rebounds, three assists, and two steals.

Star forward Grant Williams also added 24 points on 7-13 shooting, seven rebounds, two assists, and a steal.

Check out the entire boxscore:


Scouting Report: Tennessee Volunteers

Scouting Report: Tennessee Volunteers

(Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports)

With just three games remaining in the regular season, Kentucky is still in the mix for an SEC regular season title. It would be the sixth in a decade under John Calipari. To get there they likely need to pickup one of the biggest road wins in recent program history.

Tennessee will walk into Thompson-Boling Arena this afternoon with a 25-3 record and a 24-game home winning streak. Following the blowout loss to Kentucky on February 16th, the Vols are 2-1 with an overtime loss at LSU and and a last second victory at Ole Miss. With a crazy crowd ready to pull them to victory, the Vols will be hungry for a much needed win to help them claim consecutive SEC championships for the first time in program history.

Nuts and Bolts

The Vols entered this season with some very lofty expectations and they have not disappointed. Behind All-American caliber play from junior forward Grant Williams, Tennessee has spent the entire season in top 7 of the AP Poll with multiple weeks spent at the No. 1 spot. It’s been a remarkable run, but at the end of the day this team will be judged on what they do in March.

Tennessee has consistently been one of the best programs in the SEC and they have the hardware to prove it. The Vols have 71 wins all-time against Kentucky, 10 conference championships, and four SEC Tournament titles. Multiple coaches have taken this program to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, but there is still a white whale for the program. Tennessee has never made it to the Final Four.

The Vols have just a 1-6 record in the Sweet 16 with the only victory occurring in 2010. That year Bruce Pearl’s Vols upset Ohio State in St. Louis before falling to Michigan State by one-point in the regional final. The Vols now have their best team in quite some time in the fourth season of the Rick Barnes era. Barnes, who has only been to one Final Four in 32 seasons as a head coach, will be looking to make it out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008. A lot of pressure will be riding on this experienced squad this month.

This season, the Vols have been powered by their offense and that is shown by their No. 3 national ranking in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric. Tennessee doesn’t shoot a lot of threes, but they slice up defenses with execution in the halfcourt. Grant Williams is nearly unstoppable in the high post while Tennessee uses motions and plenty of screens to get Admiral Schofield a ton of mid-range and three-point looks. Jordan Bone is one of the most athletic point guards in the country while UT has solid role players in Kyle Alexander, Jordan Bowden, and Lamonte Turner. This is one of the best basketball teams in the country.

Today will be the 227th meeting between the two SEC programs with Kentucky owning a 155-71 overall lead. Since the arrival of Rick Barnes in Knoxville, this has been a really fun rivalry. The Vols are 4-4 against Kentucky since 2016 with a 3-0 mark on Rocky Top. John Calipari is currently 13-6 against Tennessee with a 4-5 record in Knoxville.

Out in the desert, Tennessee is a 3-point favorite with a total of 141. That’s a projected final score of 72-69. On the season, Kentucky is 15-12-1 against the spread while Tennessee is 14-12-1. Since the meeting between the two programs on February 16th, both teams have been a bit of a funk from a spread perspective. UK is 1-2 since that outing while the Vols haven’t covered in their last five games. The under is 9-2 in Kentucky’s last 11 games.

Backcourt Breakdown

There’s no denying that Tennessee runs their offense through Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams, but what is going to determine if this team succeeds this month will be the play on the perimeter. The Vols have a veteran three-man group who have played a lot of basketball together.

Jordan Bone is likely heading toward second team All-SEC honors at the end of the season and it’s easy to make the case that he’s been the second best point guard in the conference outside of LSU’s Tremont Waters. The Nashville native leads the team in minutes and is putting 13.1 points to go along with 6.2 assists per outing. The 6-foot-3 point is shooting over 40 percent from deep in SEC play and poured in 19 points on 13 field goal attempts in the last meeting with Kentucky. He has an excellent pull-up game.

Bone has great speed and has been compared to former consensus All-American T.J. Ford who led Rick Barnes to his only Final Four in 2003. The Vols don’t run often, but when they do it’s done by Bone pushing the pace. You could make a case that he is Tennessee’s most important player.

Next to Bone in the starting lineup is redshirt junior Lamonte Turner who is one of five Tennessee players that is putting up double figures in the scoring department. In more of a reserve role, the Alabama native has an excellent assist rate in addition to being a dependable perimeter shooter. Turner struggled mightily against Kentucky in the first meeting, but is a guy that moves the ball and helps space the floor with his shooting ability.

In wing Jordan Bowden, Tennessee has a bench player that can come in and provide instant offense. The only problem is that the junior has fallen off a cliff in recent weeks.

For an 11-game run that coincided with SEC play beginning, Bowden was putting up 15.4 points per game off the pine while shooting 44.4 percent from three. In the last two-plus weeks, Bowden is only chipping in 3.8 points per game on a 20.8 percent shooting clip with zero made treys. For Tennessee to reach a Final Four, they need this impact scorer to snap out of this funk and play at a high level.

The Vols don’t have much backcourt depth and that is a concern with postseason play quickly arriving. Tennessee is very dependent on these three guards and if a couple of these guys do not play well on a nightly basis the Vols could be ripe for an upset.

Frontcourt Breakdown

The SEC Player of the Year race is winding down and Grant Williams appears to still be in the lead. The bruising junior forward is averaging 18.3 points per game in league play on a 54.6 percent shooting clip. Williams is one of the best players in the country at drawing fouls and that is shown by his 7.6 free throw attempts per game. Williams is a great passer (94 assists), solid rim protector (41 blocks), and a quality rebounder (7.6 per game). He’s one of the best players in college basketball.

Williams gets a lot of the attention, but senior Admiral Schofield should not be slept on. Rick Barnes uses the undersized 6-foot-6 forward in some unique ways. Tennessee will utilize Schofield similar to a shooting guard by running him around a series of screens to get him mid-range or three-point looks. He leads this squad in shot attempts (75 more than Grant Williams) and three-pointers made (52). He is a volume shooter, but remains very efficient shooting with shooting splits of .483/.402/.741.

Next to Schofield and Williams in the starting lineup is senior Kyle Alexander. The Canadian is your typical defensive minded five-man. The near seven-footer leads the team in blocks and is an excellent offensive rebounder. Sophomores John Fulkerson and Yves Pons are used in limited roles off the bench. Fulkerson brings offensive rebounding to the table while Pons is one of the team’s best athletes.

Keys to Victory

  • With Reid Travis, UK matches up very well with Tennessee. Without him, it’s going to be interesting to see how John Calipari schemes to slow down this excellent UT offense. Grant Williams has scored on just about everyone he’s played against, but when paired up against the length of LSU he struggled a bit (5-for-14 from the floor). With EJ Montgomery and Nick Richards gobbling up the minutes, their length could give Williams issues. However, Williams is great at drawing contact and getting to the line. Both Montgomery and Richards struggle to guard without fouling. Whoever wins this seesaw battle is going to have an excellent advantage. The last thing UK wants is to use PJ Washington as a primary defender against Williams.
  • Tyler “I’m a bucket” Herro has been a road warrior all season and in recent weeks he’s been on an absolute tear. The Wisconsin native is putting up 16.6 points, 6.6 boards, and is shooting 51.4 percent from three on 37 in attempts in the last eight games. Herro is emerging into a big time college basketball player and Kentucky will need him to play big to leave Knoxville victorious. After dropping 23 and 5, Tennessee’s defense will be focused on PJ Washington. Expect plenty of double teams. With some good ball movement, shot attempts should be there for Herro.
  • On the glass, the Vols have been mediocre on the defensive end while Kentucky has been outstanding on the offensive boards. Both Montgomery and Richards are excellent offensive rebounders. In the first meeting, UK was able to scoop up 12 offensive rebounds. Getting double-digits again will be very important.
  • It’s going to be really hard for Kentucky to slow down both Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams. UT’s best two players have gotten their numbers consistently against the best competition they’ve faced this season. The key for UK will be to make sure the supporting cast does not beat them. From a scoring standpoint this falls to Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner. Both are effective three-point shooters who can make plays off the bounce. UK cannot afford for an unexpected player to go off for 20-plus points.

Lessons Learned: No more “cupcake walks” or slow starts for Kentucky

Lessons Learned: No more “cupcake walks” or slow starts for Kentucky

Despite being a heavy favorite over Arkansas last Tuesday, Kentucky let the Razorbacks take an 11-point lead at halftime and, eventually, a 15-point lead during the second half. The Wildcats found a way to win, largely thanks to a more-focused defense, Tyler Herro’s hot streak and some clutch free throws down the stretch. Arkansas currently finds themselves near the bottom of the SEC (5-10 conference record, 14-14 overall), coming in ahead of only Missouri, Georgia and Vanderbilt. Tennessee, of course, is a different story.

We can’t dig ourselves into a hole like that against a great team like Tennessee,” PJ Washington said Friday afternoon. “They won’t let us back into the game. If we do that, it’s going to be a long night. We’ve got to come out and play hard from the get-go.”

Against Arkansas, the team said they felt a lackluster effort during the first 20 minutes of action.

“I definitely think there was a lack of energy in the first half,” Keldon Johnson said Tuesday night after the Cats’ four-point win. “We were very sluggish, and I think we just came in too relaxed… I think it was a lack of focus of everybody. But in the second half we came and picked it up.”

What contributed to that lack of focus? While John Calipari admitted it may have been a “trap game,” Ashton Hagans had a different take.

“I think people were looking at it like, we beat Auburn by 30, Auburn smacked [Arkansas] by 30. We thought it was going to be a cupcake walk,” Hagans said Friday. “They came out as the aggressor. They came out with energy and were running the floor on us. They were knocking down big-time shots. We just kept it going and tried to fight back in the second half.

The Cats won’t have that luxury against the Volunteers.

“We can’t start off slow. We’ve got to come out there fighting,” Hagans said. “We’ve got to come at them first, knowing that last game we started off very slow and picked it up in the second half. But with this team, we can’t let them get to an early start. We’ve got to get it going.”

When the Cats defeated Tennessee the first time around, UK dominated the entire game – Kentucky trailed for less than three minutes. Come this Saturday, they need more of the same: solid basketball for a complete 40 minutes. No cupcakes allowed.


@MaggieDavisKSR


THE NEW UK BASKETBALL VIDEO IS SO GOOD

THE NEW UK BASKETBALL VIDEO IS SO GOOD

UK released a new video to celebrate the start of March and it will get you fired up for the road ahead. It includes Ashton Hagans, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson, PJ Washington and Reid Travis, and their message is: “We’re here, we never left.”

“As fast as they build us up, they tore us down,” says PJ Washington, as highlights of the Bahamas are followed by the lowlights of the Duke game. “Sophomore slump? Does this look like a slump to you?”

Keldon Johnson says, “We got our swag, no matter what.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to step outside and yell at the top of my lungs.


Getting explosiveness back in the UK offense

Getting explosiveness back in the UK offense

Perhaps the biggest recruiting win for the Kentucky football program in the offseason was getting Eddie Gran and the entire offensive staff returning to Lexington. Gran will be entering his fourth season running the offense and in that time the Wildcats are 24-15 with 13 SEC wins and three postseason appearances. However, this offseason UK is losing a huge part of their identity.

Benny Snell immediately made an impact on the program during his true freshman season in 2016. Following the four touchdown effort against New Mexico State, Snell has been the face of the offensive attack. The bruising tailback rumbled his way into UK lore and SEC record books. Replacing him will not be an easy task.

With Snell, the offense formed into a ball possession, ground heavy attack that leaned on moving the chains and playing a field position battle. The Cats would get aggressive in certain spots, but they preferred to play complimentary football by avoiding turnovers and using a solid punt game to put their defense in good situations. It’s a winning strategy that’s been used for decades, but without a proven stud at running back the strategy will need to altered a bit in 2019.

This fall behind an experienced offensive line, UK will be returning three juniors at the skill positions who will tell the tale for the offense in 2019.

In 2018, Lynn Bowden emerged into one of the best slot receivers in the SEC. Despite a woeful passing attack for Kentucky most of the year, Bowden would become one of the most efficient targets in the country. The Youngstown, Ohio native hauled in 67 catches on the season with a very efficient catch rate of 80.7 percent. He finished with 745 yards and was clearly UK’s most dangerous weapon in the passing game.

During this sophomore season, Bowden ranked fifth in the SEC in grabs, but just 12th in yards. Bowden only had a 11.1 yards per catch average do to the limited nature of UK’s passing game. After some early season struggles from the quarterback position, UK’s passing game switched to a heavy short and immediate pass attack and that is where Bowden thrived.

Entering his junior season, it is a fair to expect the former blue-chip recruit to take another big step forward. The high school quarterback phenom made huge steps in his second full season at wide receiver and this year he’ll get a full offseason of work with a returning starting quarterback. In the lab at the Joe Craft Football Training Facility, UK’s offensive staff must find creative ways to get Bowden the ball in space vertically down the field. Do that and there will be a ton of big plays for the taking.

After a somewhat disappointing redshirt freshman season, Rose emerged into a very good sidekick to Benny Snell last season. The former three-star prospect finally began to live up to the hype that many had given him following a very successful career as a dual-threat quarterback at Garfield Height High School in Cleveland.

Rose didn’t receive anywhere near the volume of Benny Snell, but he cashed in when he was given touches. The young tailback had 442 yards on 71 carries with five touchdowns and a team high 6.2 yards per carry. Rose had 1o rushes out of 71 go for over 10 yards and four go for 20-plus. He brings a boom factor to the offense.

In the loss against Georgia, the young tailback also flashed a nice reception ability in the passing game. The redshirt junior has the size and athletic ability to be a major factor in the passing game. This is something no UK running back has been able to provide since Rafael Little over a decade ago.

Rose brings a lot of tools to the table. It will be fun to see how Eddie Gran uses and polishes those skills in 2019. The upperclassmen has home run ability, but at 208 pounds he still has some move the pile ability. He’s nowhere near the power rusher that Snell is, but he could be just good enough to suck defenses in and then bounce outside for a big run. Getting consistent splash plays on the ground could open up a lot of things for your quarterback.

Following the turnover heavy start for junior college transfer Terry Wilson, it was clear that the UK staff kept the training wheels screwed on tight for the young quarterback. It’s not hard to understand why.

Wilson was a bit loose with the football (eight interceptions, six fumbles in 13 starts) and it was evident early on that Kentucky was going to win a lot of football games by using a ground and pound, ball control formula. So for the majority of the season, UK had its quarterback put the ball in Benny Snell’s belly and occasionally use his athleticism on designed runs.

When his number was called, Terry Wilson delivered on the ground to give UK a very respectable rushing offense. The dual-threat quarterback recorded 726 yards on 107 non-sack carries for three touchdowns and a very robust 6.8 yards per carry average. Wilson’s straight-line speed is a difference maker and when he was able to get his shoulders square with some space he made some big plays with his legs. Kentucky should feel confident in Wilson growing as a runner. However, the Wildcats need the young quarterback to make some big steps in the pocket.

Wilson was only asked to pass 25-plus times in four games last season and in those games he put up a respectable 7.0 yards per pass attempt. When given the chance to make plays, Wilson was able to deliver as long as he was protecting the football and not taking sacks. Finding a way to eliminate those negative plays will be the key for growth.

On the season in 2018, Kentucky’s offense had a sack rate of 8.7 percent and this ranked 109th in the FBS. For an offense that struggled to create explosive plays, each sack or negative play allowed on first or second down was essentially a death knell. Wilson must grow in pocket awareness and mobility. Do that and there will be much more opportunities for him to show off the accuracy he flashed in his first season in the FBS.

Entering the spring and as we approach fall camp, there is going to be a lot of talk about the wide receiver position. Kentucky lost four of its top five pass catchers from last season and will be rebuilding with a lot of unproven parts outside of Lynn Bowden. However, this group needs to be picked up by the rest of the team. The offensive line figures to be one of the main strengths of the offense. Behind the big guys, Kentucky will need its proven skill players to produce at a high level.

Lynn Bowden, A.J. Rose, and Terry Wilson each have proven the ability to make big plays at the SEC level. For Kentucky to get some pop in the offense, they will need for these three to lead the way. Bowden will be one of the best slot receivers in the country and UK must scheme out unique ways to get him at least 10 touches per game. A.J. Rose enters 2o19 as RB1 and Kentucky will need his ability to produce chunk plays to stay consistent with a larger sample size. In his second year in the system, Terry Wilson needs to take a large step behind center. If he’s able to improve some of his pocket mechanics, he has a chance to develop into one of the most exciting players in the SEC East.

UK’s upperclassmen must deliver in what will be a transition period.