KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Kentucky continued its recent surge by finally finding a way to beat Rick Barnes’ Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville.
Immanuel Quickley scored 15 of his 18 points in the second half as No. 15 Kentucky beat Tennessee 77-64 on Saturday to win for the sixth time in seven games. The Wildcats (18-5, 8-2 SEC) won at Thompson-Boling Arena for the first time in Rick Barnes’ five-season tenure as the Vols’ coach.
“This is a hard environment,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “This is a tough place to play. Rick’s teams are not going to give you the game. You’ve got to take it.”
Tennessee (13-10, 5-5) had won its last four home games with Kentucky, including two instances when the unranked Vols beat a ranked Wildcats squad. Kentucky had been the higher-ranked team in each of those four matchups.
That gave Tennessee hope it could do it again Saturday, but the Vols instead lost for the fourth time in their last five games. After reeling off 31 consecutive victories in this arena, Tennessee has gone 3-5 in it last eight home games.
“We’ve got the best fans out there by far,” said Tennessee forward John Fulkerson, who scored 16 points and drew 12 fouls. “You saw them today. I think they deserve to see great basketball every time they come. Home wins and home losses are really important, and so it’s big to get back to always winning at home.”
Fulkerson’s ability to get Kentucky’s big men in foul trouble allowed Tennessee to stay close most of the way, but the Wildcats’ superior depth ultimately made the difference.
Kentucky outscored Tennessee 17-3 off the bench as freshman reserve Johnny Juzang collected 13 points, more than twice as many points as he’d ever tallied before. Juzang’s previous career high was six points against Georgia on Jan. 21. He entered Jan. 15 with just 20 points all season.
“If you have a clear vision and goal in mind of what you want to do, you’re going to keep pushing,” Juzang said. “You’re not always going to feel great or motivated or positive. That’s just not realistic, you know? You’re going to go through stretches where you’re down and not motivated and might lose a little bit of hope. You’ve just got to keep going, no matter how you feel.”
Juzang was one of five Kentucky players to score in double figures. Quickley led the way with his 18. Nick Richards and Tyrese Maxey added 15 apiece, and Ashton Hagans had 10.
Santiago Vescovi scored 18 points for Tennessee. Jordan Bowden joined Fulkerson with 16.
Vescovi’s consecutive 3-pointers narrowed a 10-point Kentucky lead to 51-47 with 9:16 left. One of those 3-pointers came from well over 30 feet away with the shot clock expiring.
The Wildcats were still clinging to a four-point lead when Richards got fouled with 7:59 left. Richards made the first of two free throws and missed the second, but Juzang got the offensive rebound and scored to make it 56-49.
Tennessee was within five points again when Bowden missed a 3-pointer with 2:24 left. Kentucky outscored the Vols 11-3 the rest of the way as the collection of Wildcats fans in the pro-Tennessee crowd started chanting “Go Big Blue.”
Bowden, one of Tennessee’s top outside shooters throughout his career, has made just 14% of his 3-point attempts (8 of 57) in SEC competition this season.
“Sometimes I’m rushing it and jumping higher than what I should,” Bowden said. “I should just take my time on shots.’’
Kentucky: The Wildcats continued their momentum as they bid for one of the top 16 seeds in the NCAA Tournament. Kentucky wasn’t included among the top 16 seeds when the NCAA Tournament selection committee revealed its mock bracket Saturday.
Tennessee: The Vols squandered a big chance to boost their postseason credentials as their hopes for a third straight NCAA Tournament bid fade. Tennessee entered the day 65th in the NET rankings, which are used as an evaluation tool in the NCAA Tournament selection process.
Kentucky should stay in the top 15 and ought to move up a few spots after beating Mississippi State and Tennessee this week.
Kentucky outscored Tennessee 38-18 in the paint. Kentucky also shot 54.3% from the floor while Tennessee shot just 34.5%.
Kentucky is at Vanderbilt on Tuesday.
Tennessee hosts Arkansas on Tuesday.