Cats claw UT, 73-61

After playing No. 3 Kentucky dead even for 32 minutes, Tennessee allowed the Wildcats to make a 12-0 run that ultimately produced a 73-61 victory Wednesday night at Rupp Arena.

A 3-pointer by Kentucky native Chris Lofton gave the Vols 55-55 tie with 8:24 to go. They promptly went nearly seven minutes without scoring, however, and Kentucky went to work.

Chuck Hayes muscled in a three-point play. After Brandon Crump lost the ball, Randolph Morris hit a free throw for Kentucky. C.J. Watson was stripped, leading to a transition dunk by Hayes. JaJuan Smith missed a long 3, then Hayes hit a layup.

UK freshman Rajon Rondo stole the ball from Watson, preceding two free throws by Kelenna Azubuike. Morris closed the 12-0 explosion with a transition dunk that widened the gap to 67-55 with around 2:00 remaining. Kentucky built its biggest lead at 14 points (71-57) with around a minute to play.

Lofton finished with 19 points to pace the Vols, who slump to 12-16 overall and 5-10 in SEC play. Andre Patterson added 10 points. Patrick Sparks scored 14 points -- all in the first half -- to pace Kentucky, now 23-3 and 14-1. Hayes added 13 -- all in the second half.

Kentucky outshot Tennessee shot 55-41 percent from the floor.

Even in the emotionally charged atmosphere of "Senior Night," the Wildcats seemed flat at the game's outset. Two Crump layups helped Tennessee build a 9-6 lead, and Dane Bradshaw nailed a 3-pointer from the corner as the Vols went up 14-8 with around 14:40 to go in the first half.

The Big Orange still led by six (16-10) moments later, but UK went on a 9-0 run ignited by a Sparks 3 to go up 19-16.

Back-to-back 3s by Lofton pushed Tennessee ahead 32-27 but Kentucky scored the final 10 points of the half to take a 37-32 intermission lead. Sparks scored on a 3 and a drive, Ravi Moss drained a 3 and Rondo closed the half with a nifty drive.

Tennessee closed to 39-37 early in the second half but Kentucky made an 8-0 spurt to go up by 10 (47-37). Patterson scored for the Vols but a 3 by UK senior Josh Carrier moments later widened the gap to 12 (51-39).

Tennessee rallied gamely, outscoring the Big Blue 16-4 over the next seven minutes to tie the score. Baskets by Patterson and Smith, plus a Watson 3, narrowed the gap to 51-46. Lofton then sandwiched a pair of 3s around a Smith 3. Kentucky's only points during this stretch came on four free throws.

Once Lofton's 3 knotted the score at 55, however, Kentucky turned up the defensive pressure and Tennessee self-destructed.

The Vols close out the regular season Saturday, hosting Georgia at 7 p.m. in Thompson-Boling Arena.


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