Lofton was passed over by the Kentucky Wildcats in the recruiting process and the Maysville, Ky. Native ended up at Tennessee. It all came back to haunt the Cats tonight as Lofton dropped in 31 points as the Tennessee Volunteers (17-3, 8-1 SEC, 1st SEC East) beat the Wildcats in Rupp Arena. The final score was 75-67.
"We had some opportunities," said Kentucky coach Tubby Smith, "we did some good things getting back into the game after being down. But we lost patience. We quit going inside and settled for some bad shots. Tennessee had a great night from Lofton and C.J. Watson really handled the ball well down the stretch."
The Wildcats got off to a quick start, breaking out to an early 9-4 lead behind the scoring of sophomore center Randolph Morris and junior Bobby Perry. But after sophomore Joe Crawford hit a three pointer to put the Cats in from 18-14, Tennessee went on a 17-3 run in a five minute stretch to take a 10-point lead, 31-21, at the 6:24 mark. Lofton had 12 of Tennessee's point during that stretch on four three pointers.
But Rajon Rondo, Joe Crawford and little-used Brandon Stockton would fuel a comeback and the Cats trailed by just 3 points at the half, 39-36.
For the first 12 minutes of the second half, Cats and the Vols played tit-for-tat. Then Lofton went back to work, hitting another three-pointer to extend the lead to 58-51 for the Volunteers at the 8:40 mark of the game.
"We made some really careless mistakes," Tubby Smith said, "we have been making those mistakes all year long. Their defense was good. They put a lot of pressure on us, deflected a lot of shot and they just executed better."
Kentucky was not ready to fold, however. Ravi Moss, Crawford and Morris would lead the Cats to its first lead of the second half, 63-62, at the 5:49 mark. The lead would not last long. Morris would hit 2 free throws at the 3:31 mark to give UK its final lead at 65-64. Major Wingate would score on the next possession and the Vols would never trail again. Then Lofton took over the game.
Lofton scored seven points down the stretch to hold the Cats off. The Cats remained within striking distance until the 1:05 mark when the wheels came off for Kentucky. Perry missed a three-pointer and the C.J. Watson stole the ball from Moss on the next possession. Moss missed a three pointer, then fouled Watson on the next shot.
Randolph Morris led the Cats tonight with 18 points and 6 rebounds. Moss added 14 points, Crawford 12, and Rondo 11 points with 4 assists. The Cats continued their free throw shooting woes, dropping in only 7-15 from the charity stripe for an abysmal 46%. UK shot 47% from the field but only 4-17 (23%) from three point range.
"All we worked on today was free throws," Smith said, "we had the guys in between classes, but it just wasn't working for us."
"Morris played extremely hard. I was impressed with his effort," Smith added, "Moss did some good things. And I commend Brandon Stockton. He really came in and played nicely. We just did not seem to have the energy tonight. We were coming off a tough loss against Florida. We had the same kind of night coming off the Kansas loss."
"They gave us some wide open looks from the perimeter," Smith said, "but we just took bad shots and didn't hit the open shot. We were 1-11 from three point range in the second half."
Tennessee, on the other hand, shot a hot 10-38 from three point range (38%) and the Vols out rebounded Kentucky 38-34.
Ramel Bradley dressed for the game but did not play, "It was a coach's decision," Smith said, "we have some issues to work through. If you are going to be part of the program, you are going to have to do things right." Kentucky, with this loss, moves to 15-8 overall and 5-4 in the SEC East, a full three games behind Tennessee with seven games remaining on the schedule. The Cats travel to Nashville to take on the Vanderbilt Commodores on Saturday. Tip off is 3:00 PM, EST.