Saturday, Tennessee and No. 15 Kentucky played the first of their annual two-game series. Despite an energized Thompson-Boling Arena, the Vols could not get it done, the Wildcats winning by a score of 77-64.
Jordan Bowden, John Fulkerson, Yves Pons, Santiago Vescovi and Uros Plavsic were the first five for the Big Orange. Pons played all 40 minutes and Jalen Johnson played nearly 30 minutes in reserve. Vescovi was the leading scorer for Tennessee with 18 points and Bowden was the Vols’ leading rebounder with nine boards.
“I thought our guys really balled; they really did ...” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said “I thought they really had a good mindset coming in. I though they played really well today. First half, we did want we wanted to do, trying to get their front-line in trouble … we just couldn’t stop them in late game situations.”
Kentucky’s Tyrese Maxey opened the scoring on a jumper but Fulkerson and Plavsic scored back-to-back to take the lead for the Vols. The Wildcats would respond by going on a 7-0 run as they started to find a rhythm early in the game. Tennessee was able to go on 7-4 run, during which Pons had a massive two-handed block that excited the crowd midway through the first half.
Towards the end of the period, Kentucky started to pull away through a 16-8 run. However, the Vols closed out the half on a 7-3 run, to close the gap to seven at the break. The pivotal possession of the run came when Maxey airballed and Tennessee parleyed the rebound into a Bowden three-pointer.
Fulkerson opened scoring in the second half a little over a minute into the period and it looked like Tennessee was about to chip away at the lead, but the Wildcats were able to go in a 11-7 run. The energy turned towards the home team with about 12 minutes left, Pons blocked a shot nearly down the tunnel. The Vols really had things going their favor when with 11 minutes to go and late in the shot clock, Vescovi nailed a three-pointer from “Memphis on the map” as the legendary John Ward would say.
On the ensuing possession Vescovi’s three-point attempt missed, but following an offensive rebound and a Pons three-point attempt, which was also missed and rebounded, Vescovi sunk his second three-point attempt to bring Tennessee within four points of the lead. However, the Vols couldn’t get the score any closer and Kentucky was able to grab the win. It looked like there might be trouble as the Wildcats were dribbling out the game. Maxey appeared to be considering attempting a three-pointer as time expired, but Bowden defended him close and Maxey let time expire.
“We had a couple guys not play well.” Kentucky coach John Calipari said “They’re not machines; they’re not robots. Maybe it was a bad matchup. Whatever you want to say … we made free throws; we made baskets.”
Tennessee’s next game will be Feb. 11 in Thomson-Boling Arena. The Vols will play host to the Arkansas Razorbacks in a Tuesday night tip available on the SEC Network and the Vol Radio Network.