March 6, 2011
KNOXVILLE -- Kentucky's first half against Tennessee may have aged coach John Calipari a bit. His young Wildcats did some maturing of their own in the second half.
No. 20 Kentucky survived poor shooting and weak rebounding before halftime to beat Tennessee 64-58 on Sunday and finish second in the Southeastern Conference's East Division.
"What I told them was we grew up today," Calipari said. "For the first time this year we did not play the way we started."
At the heart of that effort was freshman Brandon Knight, who was held scoreless for the first 19:57 but finished with 19 points.
The victory kept Kentucky from having to play an extra game in the SEC tournament, which starts Thursday. The Wildcats (22-8, 10-6) will get a bye for the first round and ended a four-game road losing skid.
The Volunteers (18-13, 8-8) could have finished second in the SEC East by beating Kentucky, despite a dramatic season overshadowed by the NCAA's unethical conduct and recruiting violation charges against coach Bruce Pearl. Instead, Tennessee dropped to fifth behind Vanderbilt and Georgia and will face Arkansas in the opening round of the SEC tournament.
"To leave second place on the table and not finish with Kentucky is disappointing. ... Getting swept by Kentucky is disappointing," Pearl said. "I do feel it's a benchmark I should be judged on, and I obviously have not done my job in our rivalry with Kentucky."
Knight, who played all 40 minutes, set the tone for a second-half comeback when he took a pass from DeAndre Liggins down the floor to hit a layup just before the halftime buzzer. The basket cut Tennessee's advantage to 29-22 after the Vols opened the game with a 7-0 run and led by as many as 10 points.
The Wildcats came out of halftime by scoring the first seven points as part of a 20-4 run spanning both halves. Knight hit three 3-pointers in the opening 5 minutes of the half, the second of which tied the score at 29-29 with 18:15 to play.
"Right before we stepped onto the court (after halftime) we all huddled up and said we are really going to put in a 110 (percent) effort and just play our best," forward Terrence Jones said. "I think we got a good run to tie the game up. We just started moving the ball better, not really worrying about the bumps and just knocking down the open shots."
The Wildcats led by eight points with 11:23 to go after a fast-break layup by Knight, but three Kentucky fouls in 45 seconds sent Tobias Harris to the line once and Scotty Hopson twice. They hit all six of their free throws to end the Wildcats' run, and Kenny Hall hit a jumper to give the Vols a 52-51 lead with 5:56 left.
Jones answered with a layup 36 seconds later to retake the lead for Kentucky, which used free throws and a 3 by Darius Miller to hold off the Vols.
Jones had 15 points and 12 rebounds, and Miller also scored 15.
The loss marred Tennessee's celebration to honor all-time scoring leader Allan Houston. The Vols retired Houston's No. 20 at halftime and unveiled a banner with his name and number hanging from the rafters of Thompson-Boling Arena.
Kentucky's early struggles on the boards combined with five missed shots to open the game helped Tennessee jump out to a 7-0 lead. The Vols were able to hit short jumpers and get to the rim, and a dunk by Cameron Tatum gave them a 16-6 lead with 11:07 left in the first half.
Harris scored 18 points for Tennessee, which finished the season with eight home losses for the first time since 1994-95. Hopson, who had averaged 24 points in his last five games against Kentucky, finished with 13, though nine of his points were on free throws.
"Everybody from the coaching staff to the bench - we've got to look ourselves in the mirror and just ask ourselves, 'What have we done and what can we do to get better?"' Hall said.