For much of the week, folks hyped up this game between Tennessee and Kentucky as a slugfest waiting to happen. Well, on Saturday, the only ones throwing haymakers were the Wildcats, beating the Vols 107-79 in a one-sided contest. The Cats put on one of the best performances of the year, making things look easy against the 2nd ranked defense in the country.
The Wildcats got off to a quick start, giving the Vols defense problems from the jump, and they never looked back. Not many people would’ve imagined John Fulkerson not scoring a point or recording a rebound in this contest. But, this was the least of the Vols worries, with the defense not being able to shut down the hot shooting from the Cats.
It wasn’t just Tennessee not playing enough defense; the Wildcats shooting 78% from the field absolutely killed any kind of momentum this team was trying to sustain. Even when the Vols got it within nine points in the first half, it never felt as if the Cats were in trouble. An embarrassing outing from the Vols would be an understatement, though I don’t know many teams in the country that could hang with an opponent shooting that well for forty minutes.
halftime. pic.twitter.com/A02qTXBSNm— Tennessee Basketball (@Vol_Hoops) January 15, 2022
Kentucky has been looking for a breakout performance to set the tone for the season and today looked like an awakening. TyTy Washington led the Wildcats with a season-high 28 points, followed by Shaver Wheeler with 21 points. It wasn’t just how Kentucky took advantage of Tennessee on its side of the court, but they also had 27 fast-break points, compared to Tennessee’s one point. Today’s game was proof Tennessee still has a long way to go, especially in finding the true leader of this team on the court.
“It was a great day for Kentucky, it was almost like they had a magnet in the rim. We were in the kind of game we thought it would be and turned the ball over too much. You simply can’t give a team this good that many points off turnovers.”
“We got our tails kicked today in any way and every way you could. We got what we deserved,” Barnes added. “But we’ve always been a good team with our backs against the wall. We’ve got a long way to go. We’ll be better. But we’ve got to change the vibe.”
As for John Calipari, this win will do wonders for his squad, who will travel to Auburn next weekend for what could be one of the biggest games of the year in the conference. This game also puts to bed the narrative they can’t handle a tough team, notching their first win over a ranked opponent this season. The Wildcats had seven players score seven points or more against the Vols, which led them to shoot 68% from the field and not give Tennessee a chance to get back in the contest.
Kentucky is just the second team to shoot 65% or more from the field and 60% from the perimeter against a Division I opponent this season.
The Wildcats also honored former head coach Joe B. Hall, who died at the age of 93 early Saturday morning. John Calipari was emotional after the game, talking about Coach Hall.
“The greatest thing in all this: He knew what people thought and how much he was appreciated and loved before he passed. He knew.”
The mood was raucous from the tip, and the players gave the sold-out crowd in Rupp Arena a reason to cheer for 40 minutes. John Calipari had this to say after the game.
“This is who we are. This is how we coach. This is us. Last year was a throwaway.”
“I told [Rick Barnes] we don’t play much better than we played today,” Calipari also added.
The last time Tennessee allowed 100 points in a game was in 2006; the last time against Kentucky was in 2001. Unfortunately for the Vols, when they don’t get any kind of production from super-senior John Fulkerson, games like this get even tougher. Fulkerson finished with 0 points and 0 rebounds. This team can try to rely on their guards, but getting zero rebounds and only six points from the frontline defense will lead them to many more wins this season.
Tennessee needs Fulkerson and Nkamhoua to be more aggressive in the post, or outcomes like today will only be the beginning of a rough SEC season. It seems as though Kentucky finally woke up, though they won’t shoot like that in every game. As for Tennessee, they have work to do in finding the true leaders of this team and getting them to perform on a consistent basis. There’s way too much talent on the Vols roster for them to get beaten like today.
Next up for Kentucky, they will travel to Texas A&M on Wednesday, before heading to Auburn next Saturday for a massive matchup. For the Vols, they play Vanderbilt on Tuesday in Nashville, before hosting LSU next Saturday in a key game for this squad.
Continue following OutKick for coverage of SEC Basketball, as conference play continues to heat up.
Yeesh. pic.twitter.com/9YPe1Q2oNJ— Tennessee Basketball (@Vol_Hoops) January 15, 2022
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