KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – They said it wasn’t a trap game. They said there was no way they’d look ahead to Saturday’s showdown with Kansas. Then the Kentucky Wildcats face-planted Tuesday night at Tennessee.
The Volunteers’ 82-80 upset ended fourth-ranked Kentucky’s bid at a fifth undefeated SEC record in the modern era – and third under coach John Calipari. The Wildcats were down by as many as 11 points in the second half but scratched back to within a single bucket multiple times late. Alas, Thompson-Boling Arena remained a house of horrors for UK.
The Cats (17-3, 7-1 SEC) missed a go-ahead 3-point try with 4:17 to go and star Malik Monk slipped and fell with 3:13 remaining and Tennessee (11-9, 3-5) leading by just three. Kentucky lost for the fourth time in seven road games against the Vols under Calipari, including three of the last four.
This time, it was ugly from the start. The Wildcats’ 34 first-half points tied their fewest of the season (Michigan State) and their five-point halftime deficit marked just the second time (UCLA) they trailed at intermission.
Point guard De’Aaron Fox returned from the ankle injury suffered Saturday against South Carolina and delivered 17 points and 4 assists, but Monk was back to launching ill-advised shots and Isaiah Briscoe’s baffling slump extended to three games.
Those two combined to hit just 12 of 31 shots, including 3 of 13 from 3-point range by Monk, and so the trap snapped shut on the Wildcats.
Player of the game
Freshman forward Bam Adebayo continued his upward trajectory, scoring 21 points on just eight shots. He made seven of them, which begs the question: Why are the Wildcats still not getting him the ball more?
Stat line of the game
While Monk scored 25 points, he did so on a high volume of bad heaves. And here’s an interesting number: the freshman star is now just 10 of 36 from beyond the arc in road games. He’s 51 of 117 in all other games.
Almost as bad, Briscoe is now just 9 of 28 shooting in his last three games. The bright side for him was a career-high 13 rebounds against Tennessee, but something remains off about Kentucky’s sophomore leader.
The Wildcats were down just three with 3:12 to go when Monk slipped and fell in the corner, a turnover. Calipari went nuclear on a manager for not noticing the floor was wet, then Tennessee scored, stole another one and scored again. The lead ballooned to seven in a blink, and Kentucky was in desperation mode the rest of the way.
What’s next for Kentucky basketball
The Wildcats return home for a top-5 showdown with Kansas at 6:15 p.m. Saturday at Rupp Arena. The second-ranked Jayhawks should be fired up after Tuesday night’s surprising 16-point loss at West Virginia. That takes a little shine off this battle of bluebloods, which will be televised by ESPN (whose traveling College GameDay show will also be in town).
Kentucky vs. Tennessee box score