USA Today/Randy Sartin

Kentucky Wildcats squander 21-point lead, Tennessee battles back for 84-77 win

Knoxville, Tenn., was a dreaded winter road trip for the Kentucky Wildcats in the 1970s and 80s.

Those days may have faded into history, but for at least one more night, Rocky Top was again a nightmarish experience for UK.

After trailing by 21 points in the first half, Tennessee rallied over the game's final 25 minutes to hand the No. 20 Wildcats a stunning 84-77 loss.

"They played harder than us, and we still have guys who don't understand every possession matters," UK coach John Calipari said. "They make a mini-run, and you act like it's not a big deal -- start jacking up 3s and breaking down defensively -- and all the sudden it's a six- or eight-point game.

"We don't understand winning plays; we just play basketball."

The Volunteers (11-11, 3-6 SEC) were powered by a game-high 27 points from the league's leading scorer, guard Kevin Punter. They also got a huge effort from undersized power forward Armani Moore, who contributed 18 points, 13 rebounds and four assists.

Kentucky (16-6, 6-3 SEC) got 21 points from Jamal Murray and 20 from Tyler Ulis, but the two guards combined to make only 10 of their 30 attempts from the floor. An old, familiar problem also resurfaced as the Cats saw two players foul out and put the Vols on the free-throw line 34 times. They hit 30 of those.


Leading 34-13 with just over five minutes left in the first half, Kentucky's immaturity showed as shot selection and ball security began to revert to AAU play. In the blink of an eye, Tennessee had a 10-0 run, highlighted by seven points from Punter. The Vols closed the half on a 23-8 run, making four of five shots from the field and 13 of 13 shots at the line with no turnovers during the final 4:59. The lead exchanged hands a few times early in the second half before a 12-3 run put the Vols up for good. This time, it was more than Punter carrying the load. Five UT players -- Punter, Moore, Shembari Phillips, Robert Hubbs and Admiral Schofield -- scored during the decisive spurt. 


+1 - Tennessee advantage on the glass. The Vols entered the game 11th in the SEC in rebounding margin and dead last in rebounds allowed per game.

18 - Consecutive free throws made by the Vols to start the game.

26-4 - Vols' advantage in bench scoring, including 13 from Detrick Mostella.

81 - Free throws combined for UK's last two opponents.

1:37 - Time in which UK's 21-point lead shrunk to 13 in the first half. 


"We gave them, like, 20 points in five minutes... You can't do that." -- UK coach John Calipari on the Vols' run to end the first half.


Kentucky returns to action Saturday at Rupp Arena against Florida. Tipoff is slated for 4 p.m. ET on CBS. The Gators (14-7, 5-3 SEC), coming off an impressive win over West Virginia in the Big 12-SEC Challenge, play host to Arkansas on Wednesday before heading north to Lexington.

AllWildcats Top Stories