The Kentucky Wildcats fought valiantly, but fell to the number one ranked Tennessee Vols in Knoxville today, 63-60.
Kentucky, playing without injured frosh big man Patrick Patterson, entered the game needing a win to tie the Volunteers for first place in the SEC East.
The Wildcats trailed by seven at the half, 34-27. After intermission UK was able to trim the Volunteer lead by only one point over the first four minutes of the half, and the Vols led 41-35.
Dunks on consecutive offensive possessions by Perry Stevenson cut the lead to 41-39. Kentucky then tied the game when Ramon Harris was fouled while converting a basket at the 13:54 mark. Harris's subsequent free throw gave Kentucky its first lead of the game at 42-41.
There would be 11 more lead changes and six ties in the closing minutes.
The Wildcats too their final lead at the 4:47 mark when Joe Crawford hit a jumper to give Kentucky a 57-56 lead.
Following timeouts by both teams Tennessee executed a backdoor cut for a Ramar Smith dunk off a feed by Tyler Smith. A Kentucky turnover kept the Wildcats from answering. The visitors' efforts were further stymied when a Tyler Smith missed layup resulted I two offensive rebounds as the miss was tipped first by Wayne Chism, and then a second tip by Tyler Smith found the basket to give the Vols the 60-57 lead.
Ramel Bradley attempted to tie the game on a three-point try that failed to find its mark. The miss was gathered by Chism. A Stevenson rebound of a JuJuan Smith missed three early in the shotclock gave Kentucky the ball back at the 2:31 mark. After running the shot clock down Bradley missed a layup to give possession to Tennessee. Kentucky native Chris Lofton went to the charity stripe when he was fouled on his way to the basket by Bradley. Lofton hit his first attempt, and then missed the second to set the score at 61-57. A Kentucky turnover gave possession back to the Vols.
The Vols took advantage of the gift when Lofton scored on a pull up floater over a Kentucky defender. Tennessee's lead was 63-57, and the game appeared to be out of reach for the Cats.
Derrick Jasper hit a three with 1:02 remaining to breathe life into the Kentucky chances, and pull the Cats to within three at 63-60.
JaJuan Smith missed a layup with only 14 seconds ticking off the shot clock to give Kentucky the ball with 43 seconds remaining to play. Kentucky appeared to get a good look at the basket when Jasper attempted a three, but the ball was well short of the goal and was gathered in by Ramar Smith, who was then fouled by the Wildcats.
Smith missed the one-and-one attempt, giving the Wildcats another shot at a tie. A Crawford three appeared to be headed in the basket, but rimmed out. Stevenson gathered in his sixth offensive rebound of the day and fanned the ball out to Harris for a game tying attempt as the horn sounded. Harris's three bounced off the rim just behind the sound of the final horn. Had Harris's shot gone in it would not have counted, as the official was signaling that the attempt came too late.
The Wildcats fell behind early by fifteen, 20-5, as a pumped up Volunteer squad took advantage of a Kentucky team attempting to adjust to life without Patterson. The Cats then mounted a comeback, and at one point converted on eight consecutive offensive possessions, to pull within striking distance at half time.
Senior Ramel Bradley led the visitors in scoring with 17 points. Stevenson helped to take up some of the slack in scoring and rebounding with Patterson's absence by scoring 13 points and pulling down a game high 14 rebounds. Jasper flirted with a triple double, as he scored nine points, pulled down 9 rebounds and dished out a game high 8 assists. Ramon Harris also did his part to replace Patterson, as he scored 12 points, and grabbed five boards.
Kentucky outrebounded the Vols 33-31.
UT was led in scoring by Tyler Smith's 15 points. Chris Lofton joined Smith in double figures with 14. Jajuan Smith and Wayne Chism added 9 points each for the Vols, and Chism led Tennessee in rebounding with 8.
A choked up Gillispie spoke of how proud he was of the effort his players during his postgame interview with radio play-by-play man Tom Leach. Speaking of the injuries that have beset the Wildcats, Gillispie said that his team would continue to play the hand they have been dealt. The Kentucky coach said that Kentucky's players had been tested by the adversity they have faced this season, and he pronounced they had, "passed with flying colors."
The competitive loss may have aided Kentucky's quest for a 17th consecutive NCAA tourney bid, as the NCAA Selection Committee had representatives in attendance; and were able to witness first hand the improvement made by Kentucky since its poor 6-7 start.
The Wildcats are 10-4 in the SEC and fall two games behind Tennessee in the SEC East. The Wildcats remain in second place, and are a game ahead of the 9-5 Vanderbilt Commodores.
Kentucky travels to 5-9 South Carolina and Vandy hosts SEC West leader 11-3 Mississippi State on Wednesday. Kentucky won the first meeting in Lexington 78-70.
Cats lose heartbreaker to Vols, 63-60
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