Recap: Kentucky Perfect After The Storm

Making history wasn’t easy. Kentucky’s oldest rival made it a fight, but neither Tennessee nor Mother Nature could stop the Wildcats from posting the best start in their storied history as John Calipari’s squad moved to 26-0 with a 66-48 win over the Volunteers at Thompson-Boling Arena.

“It was a good win. Road wins are hard now,” said Calipari, whose team traveled to Knoxville two days ahead of the game to avoid the massive winter storm that dumped more than a foot of snow across the Bluegrass State. “To go on the road and do what we just did, it’s a hard deal.”

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No. 1 Kentucky (13-0 SEC) got 18 points and seven rebounds from freshman guard Devin Booker, 14 points from sophomore guard Andrew Harrison and 10 points from freshman forward Trey Lyles to remain perfect on the season. Another talented freshman, guard Tyler Ulis, chipped in with eight points and six assists.

The Cats, who led 35-31 at the half, used a 10-0 run late in the second half to pull away from the scrappy, undersized Vols, who hung around by matching UK (35-35) on the boards.

Tennessee, which was shooting 61 percent at one point late in the first half against UK’s top-rated defense, finished the game at 38 percent after going 8-for-32 in the second half.

"We were way better, defensively, in the second half," Calipari said. "I thought we were in attack mode."

The Vols (14-11, 6-7 SEC) got 14 points from junior guard Kevin Punter and 10 from senior guard Josh Richardson, but neither could get it going from the outside as UT finished 2-for-17 from beyond the arc.

In this AllWildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some of the night's highs and lows:

WHAT WE LIKED: The Cats eclipsed the best start in school history set by the 25-0 1953-54 squad. When you set a basketball record at Kentucky, it’s special. It’s even better when it’s a team accomplishment like winning your first 26 games. Think of all the great teams over UK’s history. None of them – not “The Fabulous Five” of 1947-48 (who lost their 8th game) or “The Untouchables” of 1995-96 (Game 2) or the Just Plain Champs of 2011-12 (Game 9) ever pulled that off. It’s something for which these players should take a lot of pride.

KEY MOMENT: Clinging to a 48-44 lead with 8:36 to go, Devin Booker got UK started on the decisive 10-0 run with a pair of free throws. All five playes on the floor contributed. Andrew Harrison followed with a steal and runout jam. A free throw by Tyler Ulis and a three-point play by Karl-Anthony Towns created a four-point trip. Trey Lyles capped the spurt with a basket off an offensive rebound.

STAT OF THE DAY: Kentucky won despite watching the undersized Vols win points in the paint 34-22. Tennessee had 17 second-chance points, six coming off third chances.

BY THE NUMBERS:
7 – A new career high for rebounds by Booker.

+28 – Kentucky’s advantage in the plus/minus column when Ulis was on the floor.

54 – Seconds elapsed in the game when Towns picked up his second foul and sat for the remainder of the first half.

0 for 10 – Tennessee’s shooting from 3-point range in the second half, dooming its chances of a comeback.

4 for 10 – The Vols’ free throw shooting on the night.

17 of 21 – The Cats’ free throw shooting on the night.

QUOTABLE: "This was a great game for us because, what if we get in the tournament and a guy plays all zone? This was important.” – Calipari on facing UT’s unique matchup zone defense.

UP NEXT: Kentucky returns to action Saturday at home against Auburn. Bruce Pearl's Tigers (12-14, 4-9 SEC) lost 79-68 at home to Alabama on Tuesday night.




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