Rupp jinx continues

It doesn't matter whether Kentucky is unranked, has a losing record or starts a walk-on, the Wildcats are tough on Tennessee at Rupp Arena.

Thanks to Kentucky's dominance on the boards and accurate free-throw shooting down the stretch, the Vols had a 12-game winning streak snapped 72-66 Tuesday night in Lexington, Ky.

Tennessee is now 4-29 in Rupp Arena, 1-8 since 2000.

``Any time you come to Rupp Arena,'' said UT guard Chris Lofton, ``it's not easy to win. Kentucky played with more passion and like a team that wanted it more.''

A win would have given Tennessee its first-ever 17-1start, its longest win streak since 1976-77 and a 4-0 SEC record for the first time since 1981-82.

Instead, the defeat once again raised questions about Tennessee's inability to rebound and its difficulty playing a slow-down, half-court game. Kentucky (8-9) controlled the boards 36-27 and the pace of the game.

``We just didn't bring it tonight,'' Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said.

Tennessee's offense was out of sync in the second half as UT hit just 9-of-25 field-goal attempts and scored just one goal during a 10 ½-minute second-half stretch.

``They were standing around looking at me too much,'' Pearl said. ``I had too much in the playbook and I think I confused our guys a bit. We played a little too much one-on-one.

``And I didn't get the ball to (Wayne) Chism enough. They went at us and we should have gone at them. That's my fault.''

Kentucky's nine blocked shots hurt UT's field goal percentage.

``We didn't finish the ball at the rim,'' Pearl said. ``I can get it in there with what we do, but they've got to get it in the basket or at least get fouled.''

In defeat, Chris Lofton fired in five 3-pointers to set the SEC career record with 367. He hit two treys in the final 12 seconds, to no avail, as the Wildcats hit 12 consecutive free throws in the final 3:17.

Lofton finished with a game-high 22 points, two off his average in three games at Rupp Arena. He canned five of 10 treys. With nine long-range shots in the last two games, maybe Lofton has come out of his near season-long slump.

``It's good to have Chris back in the sense he was aggressive shooting the basketball,'' said Pearl, who then took a shot at the officiating.

``Chris is a nice guy, too nice,'' Pearl said. ``If you held me that long, I'd get at least one foul. I'd knock your head off or push somebody down.''

Lofton's scoring was about the only consolation for the Vols.

Funny, Tennessee entered the game showing a deft ability to win down the stretch while Kentucky had lost close calls against Mississippi State and Florida on the road.

But on this night, Kentucky showed more poise and finally cashed in on being the SEC's best foul shooting team. And the Wildcats, who had averaged 17 turnovers per game and had the worst turnover margin in the SEC, did a decent job protecting the ball, committing just 12 turnovers.

That wasn't the only surprise. Forward Perry Stevenson, averaging 3.9 points and 17.3 minutes per game, had a career high. He scored 14 points on six of seven shooting, grabbed seven rebounds and blocked five shots in 37 minutes.

``He really was (a surprise),'' Lofton said. ``He stepped up big and that's what won them the game.''

Kentucky's defense also proved pivotal. The Wildcats, No. 2 in the SEC in field-goal defense, held UT to 38 percent shooting. The Vols were 7-of-26 from 3-point range.

Pearl said Jodie Meeks and Derrick Jasper helped Kentucky's ballhandling. Each has been injured most of this season. He cited Stevenson's play. And he pointed to the fact that JaJuan Smith (seven points) and Tyler Smith (five points) had ``quiet nights.''

``Add that all up and it's hard to win,'' Pearl said.

Tennessee's biggest concern entering the game was limiting the Wildcat trio of Ramel Bradley, Joe Crawford and Patrick Patterson – who combined to average 49 points. They had six in the first half, but scored 40 in the second half.

Patterson had 20 points. Bradley got 16, eight at the foul line in the last 3:17. Crawford chipped in 10.

Tennessee opened up a 10-point lead in the first half and had another 10-point lead in the second half before a 15-4 Kentucky run turned the game around.

Pearl said he was proud of his team in the first two defeats at Rupp Arena. He didn't feel that way this time as his third-ranked team fell to 16-2, 3-1 in SEC play.

``We don't often come into this building and feel like we're the better team,'' Pearl said.

That's why losing stung more than usual.

But then, that's the feeling Tennessee usually has when it plays at Rupp Arena.


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