Renaldo Woolridge came off the bench to hit five consecutive 3-point shots in a 17-10 spurt that enabled the Vols to whittle the 5-22 deficit to 22-32 with 4:44 left in the half. Kentucky scored the next six points, however, then gradually expanded a 38-25 intermission lead throughout the final 20 minutes.
The final margin, 25 points, was the biggest of the game. Winning its 14th consecutive game and 48th consecutive home game, Kentucky improves to 22-1 overall and 8-0 in SEC play. The Vols slip to 10-12 and 2-5.
Tennessee's only hope against the gifted Wildcats was to set a slow tempo and try to keep Kentucky from starting fast. Instead, the Big Blue bolted from the starting gate and led by 17 points before the game was nine minutes old.
"I thought they did a good job of setting the tone early on both ends of the floor," Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said on the post-game show. "I didn't think our starters did a good job of getting us off to a good start. When you allow this (UK) team at home to get easy transition baskets, it can be a long night."
Basically, the difference in the game was Anthony Davis, Kentucky's 6-foot-10 freshman superstar. Projected as the first pick in the next NBA Draft, he hit 6 of 7 shots from the field and 6 of 7 from the line en route to 18 points, 8 rebounds, 7 blocks and 3 assists. His defensive presence caused Tennessee to shoot a putrid 28.1 percent (16 of 57) from the field.
"I think he's one of those guys that comes along once in a lifetime — a Dwight Howard, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning type of guy that blocks shots and changes a game on the defensive side of the ball," Martin said. "He does a tremendous job, and the thing I like about him is that he does it without fouling."
Thanks to Woolridge, the Vols shot a solid 38.9 percent (7 of 18) from 3. They attempted just 7 foul shots, however, making 5. By comparison, Kentucky sank a mere 1 of 10 shots from 3 but attempted 27 foul shots, making 24. Tennessee committed just 11 turnovers — its lowest total in an SEC game this season — but lost the backboard battle 34-29.
Woolridge, who never left the bench last Saturday against Auburn, returned to action with a vengeance. The 6-foot-9 senior finished 6 of 9 from the field and 5 of 6 from 3 en route to matching his career high with 17 points. Clearly, he's adjusting nicely to small forward after playing most of the season at power forward.
"He didn't play in the last game because we felt he needed the opportunity to get better at the 3 spot," Martin said. "I thought he did a good job at the 3 and knocking shots down."
"He didn't have a very good game from a points standpoint," Martin said. "But he was aggressive, stayed active.... It's a good lesson."
Other than Woolridge, Tennessee's perimeter game was a no-show as the other backcourt players combined to go 3 for 26 from the field. Senior Cameron Tatum was 0 for 7 against Kentucky and stands 0 for 16 over the past two games. Skylar McBee was 1 for 6, Trae Golden 2 for 6, Josh Richardson 0 for 5 and Jordan McRae 0 for 2.
"A shooter has to have confidence when you're shooting the ball," Martin said. "More importantly, you've got to spend time in the gym, getting a thousand shots up a week. That way, when you miss one, you feel good about the next shot instead of thinking about it. That's the biggest key: You've got to be able to shoot the ball with confidence."
The Vols return to action Saturday, hosting Georgia at 8 p.m.