It was going so well.
Kentucky jumped all over Tennessee in the beginning, taking an early lead in Knoxville and then stretching that lead out to as many as 21 points with a 34-13 score through 15 minutes of action. At that point in the rout, the unstoppable Alex Poythress had 12 points, Tyler Ulis chipped in with eight and the Cats were rolling without any sign of slowing down.
But Kentucky did slow down over the final five minutes of the half, allowing Tennessee to crawl back — in part because of foul trouble to Poythress — and before we knew it, the Vols were within six at the break.
The Cats were still in control in the second half, though not nearly as dominant as in the first, until an Armani Moore three-pointer leveled the score at 63-63, the game’s first tie since the opening tip. Ulis missed a jumper to regain the lead on UK’s next possession and the Vols capitalized with a two-pointer from Robert Hubbs III to give the home team its first lead of the game with 9:42 on the clock. Kentucky would not lead again from there.
Ball game, Tennessee.
Final score: Vols 84, Cats 77.
The blown lead is inexcusable. So is the loss in general.
Losing in Knoxville to an 11-loss Tennessee team is embarrassing no matter how you try to spin it. But when you factor in the fact Kentucky led by 21 and was playing an entirely different game than the Vols in the beginning, the loss goes from embarrassing to repulsive.
No sugar coating this one, folks. Kentucky is the superior team (so we thought) but Tennessee wanted it more and it showed. Tennessee played to win a basketball game and Kentucky was unable to match its toughness. The winning plays John Calipari always talks about? They didn’t happen. The Cats simply didn’t play to win and it falls on all of them, not just one or two guys.
Cal told Tom Leach the loss was a team effort.
“You had them, now just bury them.”
That’s what Cal said of his team, while admitting he doesn’t have the kind of guys that are capable of putting games away. Kentucky squandered away a lead for a second consecutive game, only this time it doesn’t have Allen Fieldhouse and a top-10 team to blame.
Again, those winning plays aren’t happening. Execute. Finish. Win.
Foul trouble cost the Cats again.
There were some very questionable calls, yes, but there’s no blaming the officiating in Knoxville. Kentucky fouled itself out of the game with five apiece for Poythress and Ulis, four on Isaiah Briscoe and three on Derek Willis and Marcus Lee.
Tennessee shot 19 free throws in the second half to Kentucky’s nine, and 34 to Kentucky’s 23 in the game. That’s not a reflection of the officiating but of UK’s inability to defend. It didn’t help that the Vols connected on 30 of those 34 attempts, either.
That being said, I will disagree with the officiating on these two particular plays:
But in no way are those remotely responsible for the outcome.
The timing is heartbreaking.
Admit it. You had high hopes for the Cats after the three convincing wins since the Auburn loss, and the way they played in Allen Fieldhouse against fourth-ranked Kansas. They were finally starting to look like a team that very well could make a run for the Final Four.
But right as we got wide-eyed and hungry to take this thing to the next level, the team took a gigantic step backwards against a sub-.500 team in the conference. All that momentum, gone. We’re back to wondering what Kentucky is.
Jamal Murray scored a team-high 21 points while playing absolutely no defense.
Murray’s defense was at its worst (and that’s saying something) in this one. As good as he can be offensively when he is on, he is the exact opposite on the other end and he’s become a defensive liability. Whoever Murray is matched up with, that person is scoring — take it to the bank. Kentucky is switching everything and opposing teams are going right at Murray with whoever is lucky enough to draw him.
When he wasn’t letting his man score, he went 3-for-12 on three-pointers. I don’t mean to pour it on the kid, but if he’s not defending and he’s not making shots, he’s REALLY hurting the team. He’s gotta do something.
20 points and five assists for Ulis again.
It was an off shooting night for Ulis but he made up for it by hitting 12 of his 14 free throws. He’s now had at least 20 and five in nine of the last 11 games.
He finally cooled off, so I guess he is human. Although I’m still not completely sure of that.
You can’t get out-rebounded by Tennessee.
The Vols have a negative rebounding margin on the year, having been out-rebounded by several teams, including five of its last six opponents.
Meanwhile, Kentucky is among the nation’s best in rebounding margin, but somehow found a way to lose the battle on the glass in Knoxville.
And this is a game we all thought UK would dominate with its height. Pretty said it didn’t considering Tennessee played only one guy over 6-7 in the entire game.
Kentucky will need to win out to have a shot at a three-seed or come close to winning out for a four-seed to be in play. But this team is too inconsistent to be looking that far ahead. It’s not a discussion we should even attempt right now. Saturday’s game with Florida is no cupcake and the Cats need a good win there to get back on the right track.
This loss hurts because it seemed UK had turned the corner over the last couple of weeks, but it turns out that wasn’t the case. Just remember: the 2013-14 team lost five regular season conference games and played for the championship. There is still a lot of basketball ahead and everyone in the country is losing. Kentucky can beat anyone, and like we learned tonight, Kentucky can also lose to anyone.
But really. How the hell did that happen? What did we just watch?