With the crowd going wild at historic Phog Allen Fieldhouse, Tennessee fell behind 6-0 in the opening minutes and never led. The Vols mounted a few mild rallies but couldn't make the key shots in clutch situations needed to offset their miserable start.
"You don't have JaJuan (Smith) or Chris (Lofton) to make a shot to hang in there early," head coach Bruce Pearl said on the post-game show. "But we certainly battled."
After Kansas point guard Sherron Collins shredded Tennessee's man-to-man defense in the opening minutes, Tennessee switched to a 1-2-2 zone and managed to slow the Jayhawks a bit. Still, the Vols went to intermission down 40-31.
Kansas maintained a 12- to 15-point lead for most of the second half, eventually building its biggest lead at 72-55 with 7:21 to play. Tennessee finally mounted a rally at this point. Three-point baskets by Bobby Maze, Scotty Hopson and Cameron Tatum sparked a 15-5 spurt that narrowed the gap to 77-70 with 4:33 left.
Tennessee got the ball back with a chance to whittle the deficit further but Wayne Chism missed a 3-pointer. Collins drained a couple of free throws and Cole Aldrich rammed home a dunk off an inbounds play, however, bumping the lead to 81-70 and dimming UT's comeback hopes.
Collins finished with a career-high 26 points and 9 assists for Kansas, now 10-3. Aldrich contributed 22 points and 10 rebounds.
Tyler Smith led Tennessee with 21 points, along with 9 rebounds. Chism was brilliant with 17 points, 8 rebounds and a school record-tying 6 blocked shots. Maze (14 points), Hopson (11) and Tatum (10) also scored in double figures for the Vols, now 9-3.
Ultimately, Tennessee dug itself a hole in the game's first eight minutes that the Vols never managed to escape.
"The key was that their two best players – Collins and Aldrich – played well and played well early," Pearl said. "Our best players did not. Our whole team didn't play well (early).
"Tyler's got to play well early. Wayne's got to play well early. Now they played well throughout the game but not at the start."
Tennessee's shooting struggles again proved costly. The Vols sank just 39.4 percent (26 of 66) from the field and 34.6 percent (9 of 26) from 3-point range. They were an abysmal 1 of 11 from behind the arc in the first half.
Conversely, Kansas hit 51.5 percent (34 of 66) from the floor and 43.7 percent (7 of 16) from 3. Repeatedly beating the Vols on drives and runouts, the Jayhawks scored 50 points in the paint. They also outrebounded Tennessee 44-38.
The Vols will try to bounce back Wednesday night against Gonzaga. Tipoff is set for 9 o'clock at Thompson-Boling Arena with ESPN2 providing television coverage.