Kentucky KOs Vols' Season

Buzz's Boys ran into a Big Blue buzz saw tonight, as top seed and No. 4 ranked Kentucky seized control of the SEC quarterfinal contest from the outset, and coasted to a 76-62 victory against a Tennessee team that didn't show any signs of life until the issue was settled and the Wildcats were looking ahead to Saturday's semifinal.

Any chance the Vols might have had evaporated in the first 19 seconds when point guard C.J. Watson picked up his second foul and went to the bench. With UT's floor leader on the pines, Kentucky (24-4)pressured the ball and pushed the pace, jumping to a 5-0 lead 97 seconds into the game and stretching the advantage to 15-4 at the 15:38 mark. By the time the swarming of the ball and storming of the boards subsided the Wildcats owned their largest lead, 38-14, with 4:35 remaining in the half and were on pace to score 100.

From there UK coach Tubby Smith was content to play the depth card in anticipation of three games in three days. That's when the Vols finally responded like a team that had no more tomorrow, as Watson led a comeback that saw UT close the gap to 47-29 at intermission.

Tennessee (14-17) continued to chip away in the second half and had the deficit reduced to nine points with the ball several times but couldn't get any closer. With a chance to put heat on the suddenly cool Cats, the Vols made point blank shots look hard and turnovers look easy.

Essentially, on a night when it was need most UT's inside game was missing in action, as post players Brandon Crump, Andre Patterson, Jemere Hendrix and Major Wingate were a collective 2-of-10 from the field for six points, 13 rebounds, eight turnovers and two assists. Half of that point total came on a 3-point basket by Crump.

By comparison, Kentucky senior forward Chuck Hayes was 5-of-9 shooting for 14 points with 11 rebounds, three assists, four steals and two turnovers. Forward Kelenna Azubuike had a team high 18 points and starting center Morris added 11, giving UK's post players a 43-6 scoring advantage.

"We never got established inside," Buzz Peterson said of the Vols paltry post production. "We got knocked off the block too often. I was disappointed in our half-court execution. Brandon had a good game last night but he didn't tonight."

With inside options exhausted, Watson took it upon himself to attack the defense or shoot over it. The Las Vegas junior finished with a career high 26 points, hitting 7-of-14 from the field, 4 of 7 from three-point range and 8 of 8 from the foul line. He also had six rebounds and five assists.

"He got aggressive and took it to the hole," Peterson said of Watson's scoring outburst. "Since we didn't have our inside game going he decided to take it upon himself."

Scooter McFadgon closed out his Tennessee career with 13 points while Chris Lofton capped a standout freshman season with 11 points. The Vols shot 38.5 percent for the game, hitting 20-of-52 overall and 10 of 24 from beyond the arc. Kentucky connected on 46 percent of its field goals, but was only 7 of 23 on its 3-point shots. Ball security played a major role in UK's victory, as the Wildcats had 15 assists with 12 turnovers to UT's nine assists with 18 turnovers.

"I'm proud our guys for having the character to come back in the second half," Peterson said. "But it wasn't enough. The record is disappointing but I believe we're right there at the point of winning championships. And that's what we want to do, win championships."

Point of speculation: Does athletic director Mike Hamilton share Peterson's optimism about the state of Tennessee's basketball program?


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