Cats come off the mat, topple Tennessee

Kentucky erased a 16-point deficit en route to a 64-61 win over Tennessee on Tuesday at Rupp Arena...

LEXINGTON, Ky.  --- Jules Camara's breakout game could not have come at a better time for No. 12 Kentucky.

Camara, a junior center averaging only five points and three rebounds in limited action this season, delivered a career-high 17 points, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked two shots Tuesday in leading the Wildcats to a 64-61 win over Tennessee.

Thirteen of Camara's points came in the second half as Kentucky (18-7, 8-5 SEC) erased a 16-point deficit. His free throw pulled the Cats even at 57-57 with 2:23 left after trailing for all but 14 seconds to that point. He also assisted on two Chuck Hayes baskets in the final five minutes to cap a memorable performance at Rupp Arena.

"Jules Camara made some big plays. I'm really proud of the way he played tonight," said Kentucky coach Tubby Smith. "... He stepped up with some clutch plays down the stretch."

"I have a lot of confidence in myself," said Camara, who was 8-for-13 from the field. "I know the shots are going to be there for me if I stay aggressive and put myself in a position to score.

"I always knew I was capable of this kind of game. I'm really happy right now. I just hope it helps get the team turned around and playing the way we're capable of playing."

At one point in the first half, it looked like nothing could save the struggling Cats from another disappointing outcome on their home floor. Kentucky, who entered the night having already lost three SEC games and four overall at Rupp Arena, fell behind 33-17 on a Marcus Haislip breakaway dunk with 3:07 left in the first half.

To make matters worse, the Cats were also coming off a tumultuous weekend which saw them lose at Georgia and have two players (starting guard Gerald Fitch and walk-on Cory Sears) suspended for an altercation on the plane ride home from Athens. That prompted a four-hour team meeting on Sunday, one that didn't appear to have much of a positive impact in the early going against the Vols.

But feeding off a crowd that refused to let Kentucky back down, the Cats mounted 9-0 run to close the half and put themselves in position to challenge the Vols in the second period. Senior guard J.P. Blevins was the surprising catalyst, draining a transition 3-pointer and following that up with a steal that produced a pair of Keith Bogans free throws.

"I wanted to show there wasn't any quit in me," said Blevins, who was part of a 26-2 bench scoring advantage for UK.

Free throws by Blevins and Prince helped the Cats cut the margin to 33-26 heading into the locker room, much to the delight of most of the 20,662 in attendance.

"The crowd was (a big key)," Blevins said. "We don't win this game without them. They were unbelievable, and we needed their support. We haven't played to our potential, but they've stuck with us."

"Give Kentucky credit for that run before the half," Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson said. "I thought that was the difference. We needed that 15- or 16-point cushion and just couldn't hang on to it... They got us out of our flow and really played some great defense."

Vincent Yarbrough and Haislip had powered the Vols to that point, scoring 13 and 10 points, respectively, in the first half.

But Haislip, who burned the Cats for 24 points earlier this season in Knoxville, managed just two free throws the rest of the night. And Yarbrough, who finished with a game-high 27 points and matched a Rupp record for an opposing player with seven 3-pointers, was held scoreless in the final six minutes.

Yarbrough's final basket --- a 3-pointer banked in from the right wing as the shot clock expired --- gave Tennessee a 55-48 lead with 6:06 remaining.

Kentucky closed with a 16-6 run that featured five points from Camara and four from Hayes. Cliff Hawkins also came through with two crucial driving layups and the go-ahead free throw with 1:26 remaining. His basket with 36 seconds left put the Cats up 62-59, and Rashaad Carruth's two free throws with seven seconds left iced the victory.

Hawkins finished the game with 11 points, four steals, three assists and no turnovers.

"Cliff took care of the ball. That's what we need from our point guards," Smith said. "To have six (team) turnovers, that's got to be a season-low."

Kentucky also got 15 points from Tayshaun Prince and 10 from Hayes. The Cats shot only 38 percent from the field and were outrebounded 36-31, but scored 15 points off 18 Tennessee turnovers.

Tennessee (13-13, 6-7 SEC) shot just 41 percent, but Yarbrough was on top of his game at 9-for-17. He drained seven of 12 attempts from long range, matching Chris Jackson (LSU), D.A. Layne (Georgia) and Joe Crispin (Penn State) in the UK opponents record book.

Smith cited the victory as a possible turning point for the Cats' up-and-down season.

"It was a real war out there," Smith said. "Our kids showed a lot of heart, a lot of courage, a lot of toughness... It was a good overall win for us, something to try and build on. This should be a building block, to have a comeback like this. It reminds me of the '98 (national championship) team."

"This was a big win for us, no doubt about it," said Blevins, who contributed seven points in 16 mintues off the bench. "I thought we could have easily folded and hung our heads and just quit because they were making 3 after 3 and shot after shot. We could have said, they're just too hot, it's not our night, but losing never crossed our mind.

"I think losing would have been devastating. We needed momentum, and we need it in a hurry because we don't have much time left."

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