MBB vs. Kentucky

Olivier Nkamhoua (13) goes up for the layup against Kentucky on Jan. 14, 2023.

Zakai Zeigler got the steal and trotted in for an easy fastbreak layup, but he missed it way over the rim and Josiah-Jordan James picked up a foul shortly after.

That was the type of day it was for Tennessee.

Tennessee had multiple chances to build a lead and take control, but ultimately fell to Kentucky 63-57.

The Vols (14-3, 4-1 SEC) were riding a 25-game win streak at Thompson-Boling Arena, dating back to Feb. 20, 2020, which was also a loss to Kentucky.

Meanwhile, Kentucky (10-4, 2-3) ended a two-game losing streak with the win.

“We had some opportunities early," head coach Rick Barnes said. "I thought their game plan obviously, every game, not just this game, people really work hard to try to take away our perimeter players. We missed a lot of shots at the rim. Some of them uncontested, a couple of them mildly contested. But the fact is, we had some looks that we didn’t make.

The Vols jumped out to their usual early game run, this time going up 8-0 before the under 16 minute timeout. However, the Wildcats fought right back with a 10-0 run of their own. Uros Plavsic was able to end the run with a drop step layup, but it was a back and forth affair from there.

"Inside, I thought Uros (Plavsic) really did as good of a job as he could possibly do," Barnes said.

Plavsic’s performance was perhaps the biggest surprise of the day. He went blow for blow with reigning Wooden Award winner Oscar Tshiebwe. Plavsic finished with 19 points on 9-11 shooting.

"It was definitely something that I expected," Plavsic said of the physicality between him and Tshiebwe. "I knew it was gonna be like that coming into the game, and we know what he is about and the way he plays."

Tennessee was unable to find any sort of rhythm throughout the first half due to both the Kentucky defense and lack of execution. The combination of too much dribbling and ineffective passing did not prove well for the Vols. 

The Vols shot a decent 44% from the field but was just 2-9 from three with nine turnovers in the first half, trailing 33-26. Tennessee ended the night with a dreadful 3-21 mark from deep.

The Vols held momentum for much of the second half, but they couldn't pull away. That was until Zeigler dished it to Key for a three and hit a layup two possessions later to put Tennessee up 43-41. 

It was back and forth for the rest of the night, but it seemed like Kentucky was running away with it in crunch time, leading by eight with 2:45 left. However, a flagrant by Antonio Reeves sent Vescovi to the line, sparking a 6-0 run for Tennessee.

Unfortunately, Tennessee once again couldn't capitalize on momentum down three. Vescovi tried to play smart and go for two, but he missed at the rim and the Vols were forced to play the free throw game until time expired.

"They just wanted to win more," James said.

The Vols will look to bounce back on the road against Mississippi State (12-4, 1-3), who the Vols blew out at home on Jan. 3. The teams will face off on Jan. 17 in Starkville.

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