Three days after dropping an 85-62 decision on the road to Louisville, the Vols fell to arch rival Kentucky, 84-62, in Knoxville. The latest loss one-side defeat comes six days after UT shocked Florida in Gainesville, an upset that gave Vol fans some hope of earning an NCAA bid for the first time in four years.
Instead Tennessee falls to 10-9, 3-3, and must now play its next two games on the road, beginning with a contest at Auburn on Saturday. Add the uncertain status of senior captain and low post player Brandon Crump to the equation and the extended road trip, which includes four of five games away from Thompson-Boling Arena, figures to continue it’s current uphill course.
Uphill describes the Vols struggle against the Wildcats without Crump who sat out the game an ankle sprain. Kentucky (15-2, 6-0) seized advantage early and led for all but about 30 seconds of the first half. No. 6 UK built a 44-33 cushion at the half and never let UT closer than six points in the second half en route to its sixth straight win in the series. The Vols cut the gap to 40-43 on a three-pointer by Scooter McFadgon with 13:10 to go in the game, but Kentucky went on a 15-3 run to put the game out of reach.
The Wildcats overcame their own significant injury when team leader, top rebounder and second-leading scorer Chuck Hayes left the game early in the first half with what was diagnosed as a broken nose.
Even without their best board man, the Wildcats still out rebounded the Vols 41-29. On the offensive end junior guard Patrick Sparks scored a game-high 19 points, highlighted by 4-of-10 shooting from three point range. Junior small forward Kelenna Azubuike added 17 points for the Cats who shot 47.8 percent from the field (32 of 67).
Tennessee was led freshman Chris Lofton with 17 points, including 5-of-9 shooting from three-point range. The 2003-04 Mr. Kentucky Basketball also had three rebounds and three assists. His three-pointer midway through the first half put the Vols up 21-20 before Kentucky went on a 19-5 run to regain control of the game.
Sophomore Major Wingate saw his playing time increase with Crump’s absence and he responded with a career high 14 points, one better than 13 he scored against Louisville. He added six rebounds, three blocked shots and two steals to a solid overall game. C.J. Watson scored 12 points and dished out a game high seven assists, while Andre Patterson grabbed a game high 10 rebounds for the Vols, who connected on 25 of 54 from the field (46.3).
UK had just nine turnovers for the game compared to UT’s 17. The Wildcats had 17 assists vs. 15 for the Vols. Kentucky was called for just 10 personal fouls to Tennessee’s 20 and outscored the Vols from the free throw line 13-of-23 to 6-of-9.
Kentucky’s biggest advantage was a deep bench that provided 31 points and 19 rebounds to Tennessee’s reserves contributions of eight points and two boards.