Now fast-forward to Tuesday night in Knoxville: Tennessee plays a terrific first half and leads at the break. The Wildcats go crazy in the second half, shooting 66.7 percent from the field. This time, though, Tennessee holds on to win 89-85.
Obviously, the home-floor advantage played a role in each game. Obviously, the return of Chris Lofton (who missed the game in Lexington) was a factor. Even so, Tennessee was a different team in the rematch.
When the Cats made their big run Jan. 28, the Vols came unglued. When UK made its big run Tuesday night, the Vols came of age. They showed maturity. They showed poise. They showed they could take an opponent's best shot and remain standing.
"It was just keeping our composure, knowing things would go our way eventually," freshman Duke Crews says. "Great teams are going to make runs. Kentucky is a very good team, a well-coached team, so you've got to expect them to make plays with all the players they have. They're not going to lay down, especially not in a rivalry game like this."
Wayne Chism, another freshman post, offered similar thoughts on the poise and determination UT showed in withstanding Kentucky's second-half rally.
"We kept fighting," he notes. "Most teams would've dropped their head and let ‘em come all the way back and get up. But we kept fighting that whole time."
Even some of UT's veteran players were beginning to feel a little worried, though, when Kentucky made shot after shot during a frenzied rally in which it outscored Tennessee 42-26, turning a 51-35 deficit into a 77-77 deadlock.
"At the beginning, I was thinking, ‘Aww, this is a repeat of Lexington,'" junior guard JaJuan Smith admits, grinning sheepishly. "But we stayed strong and got through it."