Hopson buries 3, Cats

Family members always envisioned him hitting the game-winning shot in a Kentucky basketball game. They just thought he'd be wearing blue, not orange, when it happened.

In a storybook finish rich with irony, Hopkinsville native Scotty Hopson drained a clutch 3-pointer with 37.6 seconds left to seal No. 19 Tennessee's 74-65 upset of the second-ranked Wildcats Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena.

"I guess there's mixed feelings back home," Hopson said, grinning sheepishly. "I know my family ... they're all Kentucky fans, but I'm sure they're happy for me."

Although he nailed a 19-foot jumper with 16.6 seconds left to beat Florida 61-60 on Jan. 31, Hopson clearly found more meaning in the clutch bucket that beat his home-state university. Knocking off the NCAA's No. 2 team was a special thrill for all of the Vols.

"There's not even the words to describe it, to be honest," Hopson said. "Guys are so emotional right now about this victory. I hope it's rowdy on Rocky Top tonight."

No doubt it will be rowdy on Rocky Top tonight. Conversely, there will be heartbreak throughout the Bluegrass State ... with the possible exception of Hopkinsville.

"I know the people back home are happy for me," Hopson said. "I know SOME are. I don't know if ALL are. Definitely, I know some are happy for me. Hopefully, when I get home I'll hear some cheers."

Although he was 0 of 5 from behind the arc prior to the game-clincher, Hopson never hesitated to unload his final attempt, a shot he simply found too attractive to bypass.

"I was so wide open that I couldn't have missed that 3," he said, "especially at that time in the game. When I shot it up there I knew it was going in."

In addition to the biggest basket of the game, Hopson had the biggest assist of the game. It occurred roughly one minute earlier, right after Kentucky had used a 30-11 explosion to turn a 19-point second-half deficit into a 65-65 tie with 2:10 remaining.

As the shot clock was winding down on UT's ensuing possession, Hopson drove into the lane and went up for a short jumper. Seeing J.P. Prince breaking free along the baseline, however, Hopson shoveled the ball to his teammate for a reverse layup that gave the Vols the lead for good at 67-65.

"The clock was winding down and I had the ball in my hands," Hopson said. "Big players make big plays, and that's what I wanted to do. I got J.P. the ball in a position to score, and he made a great play."

Prince, who clinched the win by sinking four of four free-throw attempts in the final 24 seconds, scored 20 points to pace the Vols, now 21-7 overall and 9-5 in SEC play. Hopson chipped in 15. Bobby Maze added 9 points and 5 assists.

Cameron Tatum came off the bench to contribute 9 points and 5 rebounds in 12 sterling minutes. Wayne Chism, still slowed by hip and ankle injuries, managed 8 points and 6 rebounds. Brian Williams, making his second consecutive start, scored just 2 points but grabbed a team-high 7 rebounds and blocked a couple of shots.

Freshmen John Wall (19 points, 6 assists, 5 turnovers) and DeMarcus Cousins (15 points, 14 rebounds) were the key figures for Kentucky, now 27-2 overall and 12-2 in SEC play.

Tennessee shot 47.5 percent from the field and limited Kentucky to 35.0, including an icy 9.1 percent (2 of 22) from beyond the 3-point arc.

The Wildcats jumped to a 4-0 lead, then watched Tennessee make an incredible 18-0 run. Seven different Vols scored baskets during the spurt, with Prince, Maze and Skylar McBee nailing a 3-pointer each.

Kentucky closed to 22-14 but Prince hit another 3-pointer and a dunk to stop the rally.

Up 40-29 at the break, the Big Orange outscored UK 14-6 to extend the lead to 19 points (54-35) with 14:05 remaining. Just as it appeared the game was turning into a Tennessee Waltz, however, the Wildcats roared to life.

After a steal and drive by fellow freshman Eric Bledsoe, Wall scored on three consecutive drives - the middle one producing a three-point play. Patrick Patterson added a dunk to cap an 11-0 run that trimmed the 54-35 deficit to 54-46.

Kentucky continued narrowing the gap until a dunk by Cousins tied the score at 65 with 2:10 remaining.

Vol coach Bruce Pearl called timeout at 2:06 to try and shift the momentum. The ploy worked. Tennessee scored the game's last nine points.

"We know how to win now," Hopson said. "We're a mature team, and down the stretch we just have to keep playing well. We've not done that some times during the season but today we played well down the stretch and came out with the victory."

Much to the chagrin of the Bluegrass State ... except for a few households in Hopkinsville.

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