Feb. 7, 2006
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - When Tennessee hired Bruce Pearl as coach last year, he said part of his recipe for success was reaching Kentucky's level. On Tuesday night, the Volunteers surpassed it.
No. 11 Tennessee (17-3, 8-1) snapped an eight-game losing streak to the Wildcats with a 75-67 victory, solidifying its lead in the Southeastern Conference's East Division.
"I think we are fortunate to have Kentucky as our rival," Pearl said. "It is what is going to help me build this program into something."
Kentucky (15-8, 5-4) dropped to 2-3 in conference home games, leaving the Wildcats in third place - three games behind the Volunteers, who won at Rupp Arena for the first time since 1999.
The architect of Tennessee's resurgence against the Wildcats happened to be a Kentuckian. Chris Lofton, a native of Maysville, had a career-high 31 points - including seven 3-pointers - in his return home.
"My teammates gave me the ball and I was just knocking them down," Lofton said.
Lofton made his first four 3-pointers and finished 7-of-10 from beyond the arc for the game. The total matched his career high in 3s, most recently on Feb. 26, 2005, against Arkansas. That game was also his previous scoring high with 30.
But in Lofton's 3-point fest, three late scores from inside the arc may have meant the most. Tennessee took the lead for good with 2:30 left on a layup by Major Wingate, but Lofton scored the next seven points - including a three-point play - to ice the victory.
"He was happy, and we were all happy for him," said C.J. Watson, who had 10 points for Tennessee.
In his previous three meetings with the Wildcats, Lofton was solid - averaging better than 15 points a game. In this one, he was spectacular.
But this wasn't the first time he had haunted Kentucky coach Tubby Smith, who was coaching his 300th game at the school. Lofton, the former "Mr. Basketball" in Kentucky, led Mason County High School to the state title in 2003 over a team featuring Smith's son, Brian.
"I was impressed," the Kentucky coach said of Lofton. "He's a solid player. He's a Kentucky player who knows how to play the game."
Randolph Morris led Kentucky with 20 points, including two free throws that gave the Wildcats a 65-63 lead with 3:30 left, and Ravi Moss added 14.
Wingate had 12 points for the Volunteers.
Kentucky was 4-of-16 on 3-pointers and 7-of-15 from the free throw line.
Tennessee's press bothered Kentucky most of the night. The Wildcats threw the ball away on a key possession midway through the second half, even after calling a timeout to set the play. Kentucky had 15 turnovers, and the Volunteers scored 21 points off them.
Both teams were solid offensively in the first half, shooting an identical 15-of-29 from the field (51 percent). The difference was Tennessee hit more 3s.
Tennessee led by as many as 10 points in the first half, but Kentucky scored nine of the last 12 points of the half to get within 39-36.
Lofton's 3s all seemed to come at the worst possible times for the Wildcats. One of them gave the Volunteers breathing room midway through the second half, after Morris scored on a layup to pull the Wildcats within one.
"This is one that really, really hurts," Smith said. "You've got to hope you come in and take care of home court, and we didn't."
The game was the 200th between the schools. In the SEC, only Mississippi and Mississippi State have faced each other more times - 232.
Kentucky leads the series 137-63.