The Wildcats improve to 8-9 overall and 2-2 in SEC play. The Vols slip to 16-2 overall, 3-1 in SEC action.
Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl now stands 1-2 at Rupp Arena. Playing without superstar Chris Lofton, Pearl suffered the most lopsided loss of his Vol career (76-57) in last year's game at Lexington. Even so, Tuesday's setback stung a bit more.
"Last year we were tremendously undermanned and we led at halftime," Pearl noted on his post-game show. "Even though we got beat by 19, we were completely outmanned and I thought the kids played awfully hard."
What bothered the Vol coach about Tuesday's game was Pearl's belief that Tennessee could've won – should've won – but didn't.
"Tonight I thought we brought a better team in," he said. "You don't often come into this building and feel like we're better than they are."
Tennessee shot a chilly 38 percent from the floor, however, making just nine baskets in the second half. Kentucky shot 48 percent from the floor and a sizzling 85.7 percent (24 of 28) from the foul line. The Cats outrebounded Tennessee 36-27 and blocked nine shots.
"The fact they got nine blocked shots in there against us ... we didn't finish the ball at the rim," Pearl said. "I can get it in there with what we do (schematically) but they've got to put it in the basket or at least get to the foul line."
Maysville, Ky., native Chris Lofton hit five 3-pointers – the last coming with 4.6 seconds left – to pass Arkansas's Pat Bradley and become the most prolific 3-point shooter in SEC history. Lofton now has 367 treys, one more than Bradley compiled between 1995 and 1999.
Lofton nailed 5 of 10 shots from beyond the arc and finished with 22 points, 14 of them coming in the first half. He scored his only two baskets of the second half in the final 12 seconds, by which time the outcome was sealed.
Wayne Chism chipped in 12 points and Ramar Smith 10 for Tennessee. Vol scoring leader JaJuan Smith hit just 3 of 9 shots and finished with 7 points, half his average. Tyler Smith made just 2 of 9 shots and added a mere 5 points.
Basically, Tennessee's halfcourt offense was ineffective and the Vols got very few transition opportunities from a defense that forced just 12 turnovers.
"I think Meeks and Jasper getting healthy and playing 40 minutes really helped them not turn the ball over," Pearl said.
Patrick Patterson led Kentucky with 20 points and 9 rebounds. Ramel Bradley added 16 points, hitting 10 of 10 foul shots in the game's final 3:17. Still, the player who really haunted the Vols was Perry Stevenson. The 6-9, 190-pound sophomore contributed 14 points (on 6 of 7 shooting), 7 rebounds and 5 blocked shots.
"Perry Stevenson just has a career night," Pearl noted.
Tennessee's offense, meanwhile, had a nightmare night. The Vols never seemed to get their transition game going as Kentucky established a deliberate tempo from the opening tip until the final horn.
"I just thought they were standing around looking at me a little too much," Pearl said of his players. "We had very few fast-break opportunities. Everything was contrived and planned and set, and that's not how we play our best basketball."
Kentucky led 10-9 early but the Vols roared back to take a 33-23 lead with just under three minutes left to halftime. Lofton hit his fourth 3-pointer of the half with one second left to send UT to the locker room with a 36-30 lead.
Ramar Smith scored on a drive to give Tennessee a 52-50 lead with 10:41 to play but the Vols would score just one basket over the next 10 minutes and 29 seconds. Even so, UT was tied 60-all with 2:19 remaining. That's when Kentucky's Bradley took over.
Bradley hit four consecutive free throws, then Meeks and Patterson hit two apiece as the Big Blue eased ahead 68-60. Lofton finally nailed a 3 with 12.1 seconds left but Bradley answered with two more free throws at the 10.4 mark.
Lofton bagged his record-setting 3 with 4.6 seconds to go but Bradley answered with two more free throws at the 3.8 mark, ending whatever flicker of hope Tennessee might have had.