No. 13 Kentucky dismantles Tennessee

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Before the ball went through the basket, more often than not, it swung around, quickly, decisively and effectively.

Kentucky moved the ball deftly and decimated Tennessee completely, 83-58, on Tuesday night at Rupp Arena.

The Wildcats were dominant from the outset, using their ball movement to completely slice up the Volunteer defense en route to quality look after quality look. Kentucky has owned a dynamic offense all season, but ball movement hasn’t always been a hallmark of what has made it hum. Against Tennessee, it was often a thing of beauty.

Not only was the passing aesthetically, but it was devastatingly effective in covering up the well-known weakness of Kentucky’s offense: Its 3-point shooting.

The Wildcats  went 11 of 25 from distance for a mark of 44 percent, nine points higher than their season average. Thirty-six percent of their shots came from long range, which is a tick higher than typical for them.

Not only did Kentucky’s passing allow the Wildcats to get good looks at the arc, it created those looks for the players that need them most. Their two most proficient 3-point shooters, Malik Monk and Derek Willis, both hoisted seven 3s and made four apiece.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Kentucky’s ability to generate looks off the pass in the halfcourt is that the Wildcats were able to do it in different ways. De’Aron Fox collapsed the defense and kicked it out. Bam Adebayo diagnosed double-teams and found the open man. In both cases, the ball didn’t immediately go up, but instead zipped around around to keep the Tennessee defense scrambling until it broke down completely.

The level of concern in Lexington never reached serious heights, but after losing three of four games – starting with a loss to the Volunteers and finishing with a 22-point loss to Florida – things certainly were a little uneasy. Kentucky, though, has followed it up with three-straight victories, and this one against Tennessee was the most definitive one yet.

Not only did Kentucky dice up the Vols’ defense, they were able to bottle up Tennessee’s offense. The Vols shot 34.6 percent overall and 18.8 percent from 3-point range. They had seven assists on 18 made field goals and had 13 turnovers. The only thing that kept the offense afloat was the 19 of 24 mark from the free-throw line.

With Kentucky finding its footing and Florida still surging, having won seven-straight, it’s all setting up for there to be a battle for the SEC in Lexington on Feb. 25, when the Gators visit Rupp Arena.

The SEC at large may be taking some lumps for its play, but the race at the top of the league is as intriguing as any in the country with that game having the potential to be a blockbuster should both teams be able to get there without another loss.