Tennessee – 56
Kentucky – 63
KNOXVILLE Tenn. – It’s the big one. Tennessee vs Kentucky has been one of the premier matchups in the SEC and no matter the records, this game delivers. The day was even more special for Tennessee as they retired the number of Vol great, Chris Lofton, and put his name in the rafters. This even garnered comment from NBA superstar, Kevin Durant.
Congrats to Chris Lofton, got his jersey retired at the University of Tennessee..one of the best competitors I’ve been on the court with. Respect #5
— Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) January 14, 2023
Tennessee has been one of the best teams in the country this season, and Kentucky has been struggling. It was going to be a steep hill to climb for The Cats to overcome Tennessee’s top ranked defense. To make things even tougher, The Vols had been starting games on fire recently and it was going to be up to Kentucky to rise to the challenge. Will Kentucky be locked in, will Tennessee dominate, or will the rivalry take over and we end up with a barn burner? We would learn a lot in the first five minutes.
Tennessee once again came out hot shooting four of five to jump out to an eight-point lead. The Vols looked firmly in control until the first TV timeout. Coming out of the timeout Kentucky responded by going on a 13-2 run. At the 11:30 mark Kentucky found themselves in the lead 13-10. As the five-minute mark approached the back and forth continued with seven lead changes. Both teams were trading punches. Just like the first five minutes were important the last five of the first half were just as as much if not more so with how close the two teams were playing each other. The last five would be crucial to gain and control the momentum going into the half. With 4:35 remaining Santiago Vescovi knocked down a three pointer to go up 23-21, but Kentucky came roaring back and forced Rick Barnes to use a timeout with Kentucky leading 27-23 at 2:32. In the closing minutes Zakai Zeigler missed three layups and Kentucky was able to capture the halftime momentum with a seven-point lead.
How would The Vols respond? That was the question on everyone’s mind in Thompson-Boling Arena. As the second half began an offensive rebound for Kentucky would make it 10-2 Cats on the offensive glass; a stat trend Tennessee could not afford to continue. Uros Plavsic scored three baskets in a row to bring his total to 12 points and cut Kentucky’s lead to three. At 11:50 Uros knocked the lead down to one and as the clock ran down the physicality continued to ramp up. Every rebound on both ends of the floor was a war. A Tyreke Key three pointer tied the game with 10:00 to go. The last ten was going to be everything great about this rivalry. Zeigler gave The Vols their first lead since 23-21. With nine minutes left Tennessee led 43-41. The same words continued to come to mind as the back and forth continued: war, battle, fistfight, boxing match. At the 4:20 mark Kentucky led 53-50. Zeigler had missed another layup and Tennessee desperately needed him to bunce back for the critical last four minutes of the game. A huge swing took place as Vescovi missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and a foul was called on Tennessee on the rebound. Kentucky made the first free throw and missed the second, but Oscar Tshiebwe reeled in the rebound and made it a six-point game, further reinforcing the offensive rebound statistic in which Tennessee trailed 13-3. With 2:45 to go Kentucky had built a 58-50 lead. Tennessee looked to be in trouble, but a flagrant foul gave Tennessee the opportunity to shoot free throws and retain possession. Vescoi was able to convert the free throws but another missed layup for Tennessee kept the score at 52-58. Once again, down by six, Uros Plavsic stepped up against the reigning player of the year in Tshiebwe and cut The Cats lead to four. With one minute to go a Kentucky turnover and Uros basket cut the lead to two. Tennessee needed a stop and a score. Tennessee’s strength, their defense, was going to have to step up to give The Vols a chance, and they did, forcing a five second violation. However, Tennessee was not able to score as they missed two more layups in their next two possessions and Kentucky widened the gap with free throws.
Missed layups and offensive rebounds ended up being the killer for Tennessee as they fell to Kentucky 63-56.
#Vols missed wide open layups and got dominated on the offensive glass. You’re not going to beat anybody doing that. Unacceptable, but fixable. I know what #Tennessee will be doing in practice this week.
— Adam Brown (@AdamJBrown00) January 14, 2023
This is what Tennessee Head Coach, Rick Barnes, had to say post-game via Ben McKee of GoVols247 on Twitter:
Rick Barnes: We missed a lot of shots at the rim. We had some looks we didn’t make. I thought Uros did as good a job as he can possibly do, but we need more consistency from some guys. Guard play wasn’t good enough.
“Difference in the game was rebounding.”
— Ben McKee (@benmckee14) January 14, 2023
Tennessee’s next game is against Mississippi State in Starkville at 6:00pm on Tuesday.