Tennessee – 54
Kentucky – 66
LEXINGTON, Ky. – It was time for round two of one of the best rivalries in The SEC, as Tennessee traveled to Lexington looking for a season split with The Wildcats on a morning where the committee had revealed their top 16 seeds at the moment with The Vols sitting at a three. Tennessee, looking to move up those rankings, would again be without Julian Philips and Josiah-Jordan James. Kentucky, on the other hand, was looking for another resume boosting win over The Vols and a season sweep.
Both teams starting off 0-7 from the field was certainly unexpected but nothing should reach the level of surprise in this rivalry. Tennessee was quickly putting up shots that would not fall and if they took their time to find a good look, none came. Kentucky was having similar problems but found a way to get to the free-throw line and made a couple of tough shots early. At the halfway point of the first period, Tennessee had taken 13 shots, six of which were from deep where the Vols were 0-6.
By the seven-minute mark, Kentucky had jumped out to their largest lead of the game so far at 19-10. Kentucky continued to grow their lead out to 27-12 before Zakai Zeigler hit Tennessee’s first three-pointer of the game with 3:42 to play in the first. Kentucky would end the half on an 8-0 run to more than double The Vols’ points going into the break. Tennessee was shooting just 25% from the field and was 1-13 from three. Tennessee obviously needed to take fewer threes but down 20 it was going to be hard not to. Shorts were going to have to start falling and quickly. Beyond shooting struggles, The Vols had just four offensive rebounds which is highly uncharacteristic. It was going to take a monster second half from Tennessee to get back in it.
The Vols started the second half the exact way they needed to with a 7-0 run while preventing Kentucky from even attempting a shot. Obviously, that’s not sustainable and Kentucky began to get theirs, but Tennessee was battling. They could’ve quit down 20 at the half but they were going to fight. Santiago Vescovi, who had zero points in the first half, had 13 with 13 to play in the second. Tennessee was doing everything they could to cut the lead back down to single digits with Kentucky’s lead down to 51-41.
With the final 10 minutes to go, Tennessee was looking at a 12-point deficit to overcome. Zakai Zeigler on the bench with four fouls was not ideal and production was going to have to come from elsewhere on the roster. Jahmai Mashack answered the bell with a huge three to put Tennessee within 9 of the Cats at 46-55 with 8:30 to play. With five minutes to go, Kentucky’s lead was 10. Free throws were hurting The Vols as they had missed all six attempts in the second half. Despite that, Tennessee had cut the lead to nine with 1:14 to go and had to start fouling The Cats. Kentucky extended the lead to 12, and The Tennessee comeback attempt came up short. In SEC basketball you cannot have a first half like The Vols had, especially on the road, and expect to win. They gave themselves a chance but couldn’t hit the shots they needed down the stretch and were 4-14 on the night from the charity stripe. Kentucky, who hit 23 free throws compared to Tennessee’s four, would get the win 66-54.
Santigo Vescovi led all scorers with 17 points with Oscar Tshiebwe right behind leading Kentucky with 16. Chris Livingston led all players with 10 rebounds. Jahmai Mashack led Tennessee with eight. Cason Wallace led all players with six assists, and Vescovi led The Vols with three.
This is what Tennessee Head Coach, Rick Barnes, had to say post-game via Ben McKee of Govols247 on Twitter:
Rick Barnes: It goes back to consistency and knowing what we’re going to get night in and night out. I didn’t think our shot selection was good in the first half and that impacted our defense. We weren’t locked in enough.
— Ben McKee (@benmckee14) February 18, 2023
Tennessee’s next game is against Texas A&M in College Station at 6:00 on Tuesday.