Showing poise beyond his years, Watson committed just three turnovers in 36 minutes against the ballhawking Wildcats. He also contributed 15 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals and a blocked shot as the Vols pushed the 20th-ranked Wildcats before bowing 74-71.
Watson's performance was made even more impressive by the fact he was without his backcourt mate for much of the evening. Senior shoting guard Jon Higgins played just 28 minutes before fouling out with 8 minutes remaining.
''Knowing Higgins was in foul trouble and they (Wildcats) do what they do, that's when I knew I had to step up,'' Watson said.
Although he knew beforehand that Kentucky would bring more defensive pressure than the teams he had faced previously, Watson said he wasn't nervous.
''Not really,'' he said. ''I was really looking forward to this game. I couldn't wait for it to start.''
Ron Slay, who led Tennesee with 22 points, thought Watson's play was most encouraging.
''C.J. did a great job,'' he said.
Higgins thought so, too.
''I thought C.J. played well,'' he said. ''For it to be your first conference game against a team like Kentucky -- and you only have three turnovers and come up with 15 big points -- you obviously played well.
''But that's what we've come to expect from C.J. He's a great player, and we expect that every game now.''