Tennessee turned in one of its worst performances of the season, getting blown out at home to Kentucky, 70-55. The Wildcats jumped out to a double-digit lead in the first half and unlike two weeks ago in Lexington, they didn’t look back, never leading by single digits in the second half.
Here are three takeaways.
Tennessee’s offense has been extremely inconsistent this season and has been prone to poor shooting games. Saturday was much worse than just a bad shooting game as the Vols scored just 55 points, their third lowest total of the season.
The 55-point performance came on 32% shooting from the field, 27% shooting from beyond the arc and 13-of-16 shooting at the free throw line.
“I thought some of the threes were taken by the wrong guys at the wrong time,” Barnes said. “I thought we got stagnant doing that. I don’t think you can get the ball, stare down somebody and raise up. That’s not how we play.”
For one of the first times this season, Tennessee couldn’t get open shots and never was able to penetrate against the Wildcats’ half court defense.
In the first matchup between these two teams, Tennessee used transition scoring to pull off its double-digit second half comeback. Saturday, Tennessee couldn’t get anything going in transition, scoring just five fast break points.
Credit Kentucky for taking care of the basketball, just 11 turnovers, and making it difficult for Tennessee to get anything easy in transition.
Tale of two halves for Tennessee’s defense
Kentucky’s offense entered the game hitting its stride on the offensive end, reaching 80 points in three straight games.
In the first half, Kentucky’s offense kept that success rolling, scoring 45 points while shooting 60% from the field. The Wildcats used hot shooting from beyond the arc to quickly open a double digit lead over Tennessee.
The Wildcats made six-of-nine first half three-pointers including five-of-five shooting from deep from Davion Mintz.
“He just got hot,” Tennessee guard Victor Bailey Jr. said of Mintz. “He got going. I think he went five-for-five from the three-point line, knocking shots down. … That’s on us. It’s on the guards.”
"First half of the game, I did not think we defended the way we are capable of," Barnes said. "You have to give them credit. They made shots. But I also thought they got comfortable. We had a couple too many defensive lapses with the wrong guys, transitions threes and giving up too much separation."
The second half was a completely different story, with Tennessee playing strong defense and holding Kentucky to just 25 points.
The Wildcats shot a horrific 20% from the field in the second half but were able to get to the free throw line, shooting 15 second half free throws.
Kentucky also did a good job of taking care of the ball while their offensive faltered, turning it over just four times, preventing the Vols from getting easy transition baskets.
Johnson, Springer shut down
In the first meeting between these two teams, Tennessee’s freshmen guards stole the show, combining for 50 points while dominating the second half.
Kentucky wasn’t going to let that happen again, keying in on Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson.
Johnson would score 15 points but did it with an incredible inefficiency, shooting four-of-14 from the field. Johnson added five of Tennessee’s 12 assists but also turned it over three times.
“I don’t think we’re having to bear a lot of the shot attempts,” Johnson said of he and Springer. “I just feel like we have to find a rhythm within the game and within ourselves as well. Just getting ourselves on track to be consistent throughout the game.I think it was hard for both of us to get in a rhythm or groove just because of how packed in the gaps were for us to get into driving lanes which is what we love to do.”
Springer, who was averaging 22.5 points in his last four games, was nonexistent for Tennessee, scoring just four points on a putrid two-of-11 shooting. Springer, one of the Vols’ best passers, also struggled to get good looks for teammates, recording just one assist while turning it over three times.
Tennessee’s offense has to get more from everybody going forward, but Johnson and particularly Springer are massive pieces of the Vols’ offense and Tennessee’s postseason run will be short if they don’t get more from the duo.
“I thought they were hesitant,” Barnes said. “I think those guys are young and learning that every game is going to be different. I don’t think there’s any question Kentucky respected their ability to drive by them. They were backing off trying to encourage the quick maybe one dribble pull up shot or get them going down hill and try to run and attack the ball."
Tennessee will look to bounce back from its sixth SEC loss when they travel to Nashville Wednesday to take on Vanderbilt. Tip-off from Memorial Gymnasium is set for 9 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on SEC Network.