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Kentucky sends statement with thumping of No. 1 Tennessee

There are wins and then there are WINS. We knew No. 1 Tennessee coming to town would inspire Kentucky’s best effort and an electric atmosphere at Rupp Arena, but I’m not sure any of us expected a 17-point thumping. On the taped up shoulders of PJ Washington, Kentucky soared to an 86-69 win over Tennessee tonight, the biggest win over a No. 1 ranked team in program history.

The victory not only proved that Kentucky is a legitimate national title contender, it reestablished a pecking order in the SEC that had gone a bit awry. That “Orange is the new Blue” narrative ESPN’s been pushing? PJ Washington swatted it to the rafters along with Tennessee’s 19-game winning streak.

Let’s talk about it because, if you’re a Kentucky fan, there’s nothing more you’d rather do.

PJ Washington led the way

We knew from the first half of last year’s game in Knoxville that PJ Washington was capable of shutting down Grant Williams. Cramps robbed PJ of the second half of that game, but tonight, he was a machine, scoring 23 points off 9-12 from the floor and anchoring Kentucky’s offense. Last year, Williams admitted that PJ got into his head, and PJ did it again tonight, having his way with Tennessee’s bigs. When the ball was in his hands, PJ could not be stopped, and spurred his teammates to do the same.

One more thing PJ swatted to the rafters: the narrative that Kentucky players who aren’t one-and-dones are failures. PJ was projected to be a first-round pick last year, but by returning to school and working on his game, he’s inching into lottery territory. As Calipari constantly says, when PJ plays like this, he’s among the best in the country.

Reid did what he came here to do

Last year, Calipari complained that Tennessee’s players pushed his guys around, but tonight, the roles were reversed. The Cats owned the middle with 36 points in the paint to Tennessee’s 20 and winning the rebounding battle 39 to 26 in large part because of Reid Travis. Reid finished with 11 points and 8 rebounds, a stat line that doesn’t begin to describe his impact on the game. This is the game Reid was brought here for, and because of him, Kentucky was the most physical team on the floor. After the game, Cal said Reid battled so hard he had to get an IV in the locker room.

“The difference maker in the game for us was Travis,” Calipari said. “Now his numbers, 11 and 8, and you can say what you want, but he was a beast against another beast. Like it negated that. You’re not going to dominate us.”

Ashton Hagans bounced back

Kentucky’s dominance in the post was crucial tonight, but the matchup of the game was Jordan Bone vs. Ashton Hagans. The freshman busted out of his slump in a big way, finishing with nine points, seven assists, and only one turnover in 36 minutes. January Ashton is back, and as a result, the Cats fired on all cylinders, moving the ball crisply and controlling the tempo while holding the Vols to 28 percent from three.

“Ashton today played like he had been playing,” Cal said, telling reporters how he had the team look at tape of Hagans’ performance vs. North Carolina to remind them how great he can be. “For two games he went downhill and then it affected us the last game. And in this game he came back.”

Tyler Herro was fantastic

If you had to guess which player finished tonight’s game with a double-double, would you guess Tyler Herro? Probably not, but Herro was fantastic tonight, scoring 15 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. Herro’s still struggling a bit with his shot at Rupp, hitting only 3-11 from the floor, but continues to do all the other things to help his team win, such as skying for rebounds and diving after balls. He played so well I’ll forgive his first missed free throw since the North Carolina game.

Welcome back, Keldon Johnson

For Kentucky to beat Tennessee, they needed a huge game from Keldon Johnson; the freshman delivered in thrilling fashion, doing his best Tayshaun Prince impression with three big threes in the first half. It hasn’t been an easy month for Keldon, but he proved he’s worthy of the spotlight, finishing with 19 points. Build on that, Keldon.

Nothing motivates like a loss

Did Kentucky overlook LSU? That seems like a crazy thing to say about the No. 19 team in the country, but with No. 1 Tennessee coming in, John Calipari said a loss to the Tigers was exactly what his team needed to refocus.

“I hit them right after the game with LSU and just said, hey, that was a tough loss, but you know what, we needed it. Because our team is changing, we’re not the defensive team that we have been. We have individuals changing how they were playing when they were successful. We need to get it back. We need to go back to what we were, and you know what, sometimes you got to get knocked in the head to know that. So the loss to LSU probably helped us win this game.”

If you had to choose between wins over LSU or Tennessee, which would you pick? Thought so.

All is right in the world again

It’s not every day that Kentucky hosts the No. 1 team in the country. The last time it happened was 2007, an 86-77 loss to North Carolina. The Cats’ last win over a No. 1 team? 2011 vs. Ohio State in the NCAA Tournament. So, today was big. From College GameDay in Memorial Coliseum to a late tip in Rupp, the lead up to the top five showdown with Tennessee was exhilarating, but exhausting.

That’s why it was so great that the Cats came out and stomped the Vols, the exclamation mark the fan base has been begging for. On nights like tonight, Kentucky Basketball can’t be beat, a stroke of reassurance as we head into the final stretch of the season.


Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

27 Comments for Kentucky sends statement with thumping of No. 1 Tennessee

  1. TheAssman
    11:49 pm February 16, 2019 Permalink

    Great stuff Tyler!!

  2. Ridge Runner
    11:52 pm February 16, 2019 Permalink

    Great summary for a great day to be a UK basketball fan!

  3. Jesus H. Chrysler
    12:08 am February 17, 2019 Permalink

    F* UT

  4. Wade
    12:18 am February 17, 2019 Permalink

    We killed tn, it was literally a funeral but for uk fans first 3 letters in funeral are F-U-N and I had a blast! Go cats!

  5. syrin23
    12:23 am February 17, 2019 Permalink

    Our freshmen got sloppy with the ball after we got the 20 point lead leading to some really easy baskets. Keldon specifically. We saw what Duke did to the Ville, so that needs to be fixed before the tourney.

    • UKWildcatNation
      1:10 am February 17, 2019 Permalink

      Couldn’t agree more. They got complacent and the zone threw them off a little. Glad they were able to gather themselves and stop the bleeding

  6. syrin23
    12:26 am February 17, 2019 Permalink

    By the way, PJ is showing us WHY jumping to the NBA the first chance you get isn’t necessarily the best thing. He has moved into a top ten pick AND may get his team to the FF or better. Season ending injuries are rare, and career ending injuries almost don’t exist any more.

    • jimmer
      8:09 am February 17, 2019 Permalink

      Yes! Absolutely true.

    • IrishCat
      8:46 am February 17, 2019 Permalink

      Absolutely. A sign of things to come, I hope.

  7. zoupman
    12:28 am February 17, 2019 Permalink

    The crowd was so in to it, they went nuts when UK got the opening tip.

    • henderblue
      8:46 am February 17, 2019 Permalink

      Props to the Rupp Arena crowd. Yes, they were great.

    • Rockitout
      8:47 am February 17, 2019 Permalink

      Great point. I heard the bass speaker on my surround sound rumbling the whole game! Unbelievable atmosphere.

  8. sincitycat
    12:29 am February 17, 2019 Permalink

    Thanks Tyler. Cats win!

  9. Cletis75
    12:46 am February 17, 2019 Permalink

    That’s the type statement that I have been waiting to see. The 2 previous games were terrible statements. Outplayed in the second half of both. Hopefully they can keep this type of focus in the tournament.

  10. KYCat4EVER
    1:42 am February 17, 2019 Permalink

    Great WIN! Cudos to Coach Cal and our CATS!

  11. Luether
    2:14 am February 17, 2019 Permalink

    Another excellent post, Mrs TT…

  12. Racerr11
    6:02 am February 17, 2019 Permalink

    First and foremost thank you Cal, what an amazing coach you are and thanks for coaching the guys up like you always do. Ashton Hagan’s is the key to this team, when his motor is at it’s Peak the rest of the team plays much more aggressive. PJ and Reid are amazing and if Tyler can find his shot we will be unstoppable. Thanks again Cal for the job you have done and continue to do. We are very fortunate to have Cal so continue to coach them up.

  13. Aar
    7:57 am February 17, 2019 Permalink

    Great post about an exceptional win. I like the Cats’ chances against every team in the country when they play like that!

    Mizzou may look like a cupcake but the Cats have had trouble against them, especially in Missouri. Go Cats, Beat Tigers!

  14. 4everUKblue
    8:58 am February 17, 2019 Permalink

    That sure was fun, I thought we’d win in a close game but that was total domination.

  15. BBNDan7
    9:19 am February 17, 2019 Permalink

    Where’s “no more excuses cal” at this morning?

  16. FanNotFanatic
    11:04 am February 17, 2019 Permalink

    If I were Keion Brooks, I couldn’t help but compare everything I saw last night to the debacle unfolding in Bloomington.

    • IrishCat
      11:08 am February 17, 2019 Permalink

      I’m holding out hope for Jaden..

  17. KYjellyRoll
    7:25 pm February 17, 2019 Permalink

    How many times can Reid dribble and fumble the ball away at the ft line? That needs fixed. It usually happens when the other team shows double team. In one on one he’s pretty good