LEXINGTON, Ky. – Cason Wallace and Oscar Tshiebwe each scored 16 points and Kentucky rushed to a big lead and beat No. 10 Tennessee 66-54 on Saturday.
The Volunteers (20-7, 9-5 SEC) trailed by 20 points at halftime and lost in their first game since toppling No. 1 Alabama.
The Wildcats (18-9, 9-5) earned their first regular-season sweep of Tennessee since the 2011-12 season. Kentucky defeated the Volunteers 63-56 on Jan. 14 in Knoxville.
Wallace had totaled nine points in the Wildcats’ previous two games.
“He was ready to play,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “He hasn’t been good in afternoon games, and I reminded him (before the game), this team needs everybody.”
Chris Livingston added 12 points and completed a double-double with 10 rebounds. Jacob Toppin had 11.
Coming off their 68-59 home win over Alabama on Wednesday, the Volunteers failed to duplicate the same defensive prowess they displayed against the Crimson Tide, especially in the first half.
Tennessee coach Rick Barnes was disappointed in his team’s ability to maintain the focus it had earlier in the week against Alabama, a problem that has plagued his team the entire year.
“I wish I knew about the (inconsistency issues), we’d fix it,” he said. “I think it goes back, and I don’t understand, with as much time as we spend, older guys talking about doing your job, playing your role night in and night out, and not letting emotion get the best of us.”
Tennessee struggled during the first 20 minutes and trailed 39-19 at the break. The Volunteers shot 31% in the first half whole going 1 for 13 from 3-point range.
“What I liked was how we defended and how we rebounded,” Calipari said. “We outrebounded them by eight, you understand, in the country they’re like the best, they’re a plus eight rebounding and we ended up being plus eight in the first half.”
Santiago Vescovi led Tennessee with 17 points and Jahmai Mashack had 16.
Both teams were shorthanded. The Volunteers were minus starter Julian Phillips (hip) and senior reserve Josiah Jordan-James (ankle). Kentucky was missing senior guards Sahvir Wheeler (ankle) and C.J. Fredrick (ribs).
Tennessee: The Volunteers were outrebounded 43-23 in their loss to the Wildcats in Knoxville and didn’t fare much better in the rematch. Kentucky held a 40-32 edge on the glass. … Tennessee never got closer than eight points during the second half.
Kentucky: The Wildcats continue to make a late push for an NCAA Tournament berth and notched their second straight Quad 1 victory and third of the year. Kentucky positioned itself for a higher seed in the SEC Tournament with two weeks remaining in the regular season. “Talking us out of the NCAA tournament does not work,” Calipari said. “You either play yourself in or you play. . we’ve had two losses that you would like to have back. We’ve had other games, really the first game. But you know what? None of that matters now. Everything is just going forward.”
The Wildcats honored its 1996-1998 teams during halftime. Kentucky won the national title in 1996, was runner-up in 1997 and captured its second title in three years in 1998. Former coach Tubby Smith, who guided the Wildcats to the national title in his first season at the helm in 1998, was in attendance as well as former coaches and players from those three teams.
Tennessee: At Texas A&M on Tuesday.
Kentucky: At Florida on Wednesday.