Robert Hubbs scored 25 points and Grant Williams chipped in with 13 points, six boards, six assists, four steals and three blocks as Tennessee picked off No. 4 Kentucky in Thompson-Boling Arena on Tuesday night, 82-80.
It’s the third time in the last four games that the Wildcats have lost to UT on the road.
The loss is Kentucky’s first since they fell at Louisville in late-December, and it opens the door for South Carolina to make a run at the SEC title. The Vols, who nearly beat North Carolina in Chapel Hill earlier this season, are now 4-4 in the SEC.
Here are four things to take away from this game:
1. This is why Kentucky’s perimeter shooting is a concern: The Wildcats finished the night shooting 6-for-24 from beyond the arc. Malik Monk was 3-for-13 by himself. A number of those misses were good looks from three in critical moments – off the top of my head, Derek Willis missed one late in the second half that would have put Kentucky after 67-66 – and a handful of them were bad shots forced by Monk. The Wildcats have gotten better shooting the ball from the perimeter after a slow start to the season, and to me, this was more of an off-night when a showdown against No. 2 Kansas on the horizon than anything.
But it was something of a wakeup call. I didn’t think Monk, Fox or Briscoe played particularly well, and when those three don’t play well, this team is beatable.
2. Kentucky’s interior defense got worked: The Vols scored 42 points in the paint. Admiral Schofield had 15. Grant Williams had 13 points and six assists. Robert Hubbs did much of his damage as the Vols ran inverted offense, posting up the big, physical wing against UK’s freshmen back court. Bam Adebayo was terrific offensively, good enough that Kentucky’s inability to get him the ball was a noticeable issue, but he didn’t do much to discourage Tennessee from going at the rim.
Bam wasn’t the only issue, either. Wenyen Gabriel and Derek Willis were outmuscled by Tennessee’s big men as well. All in all, it’s not going to be fun for those big men when they watch the film on this one.
3. All that said, Kentucky lost by two: This just wasn’t Kentucky’s night. They were not good. And they lost a league game on the road by two points. That probably says more about this team than anything else.
4. Good for Rick Barnes and Tennessee: Looking at their record, you might think that this Tennessee team has had a disappointing season. And they have, but it’s not so much because they’re a bad team and more an issue of struggling to close out winnable games. They lost to Oregon in overtime in Maui. They lost at North Carolina by two points. They gave Wisconsin, and Florida, and Gonzaga a fight.
And the finally have a season-defining win to show for it. Hell, they might be the only team to beat these Wildcats in the SEC this season.
So while I’m not sure that even this is enough to get Tennessee into bubble contention, it is enough to keep their season from being a total loss. And it is the kind of win that a program with some promising young talent can build off of.