A Physical Matchup in Lexington
This game has been anticipated for months. As Tennessee continued to dominate in conference play and Kentucky found their rhythm, more and more were ready for this game to tip-off. Both coaches had their teams ready to go, but in the end, Kentucky won. Bodies literally flew across the floor in this physically overwhelming game. Kentucky was able to win the physicality battle and that was the key of this game and it led to UK snapping the 19-game Tennessee winning streak.
The first half was full of hard picks, good no-calls, and a level of physical basketball rarely seen nowadays. Kentucky’s PJ Washington got a charge call in the first 15 seconds of the game that sent Grant Williams flying to the floor. PJ Washington would go on to score the first seven of Kentucky’s points and show he is worthy of a first-round pick. Grant Williams would hit the floor a couple more times before the first half was over. The Cats controlled the boards and led the first half rebounds 17 to Tennessee’s 11.
As both teams started to see their shots falling, Keldon Johnson started to make it rain. The young, freshman guard put down three shots from beyond the arc and finished with 13 points, on 5-9 from the field and 3-5 from three. Tennessee’s Grant Williams put down 8 points on a perfect 3-3 from the field and 2-2 from three. The back and forth between these teams made for an absolutely ELECTRIC atmosphere in Rupp Arena. The thing that gave the Wildcats the edge had to be the rebound discrepancy and the fact they shot 59% from the field. Both teams went to the locker room at halftime with the Cats leading 37-31.
A Second Half Comeback Thwarted
The Tennessee Volunteers started off by only scoring five points in the first 7 minutes of the second half. Then, a change in defense from man to man to a press and 2-3 zone sparked a 13-0 Tennessee run. The thing is, even with a 13-0 run, Kentucky’s lead never fell to single digits. PJ Washington started to demand the ball again and the Wildcats ran pulled away again.
What went wrong for the Volunteers in this game, their field goal percentage and three-point percentage. Tennessee wanted to play physical, but I’m not sure they believed Kentucky was going to bring the physicality back even harder. Tennessee came into this game averaging over 85 points a game, 51.45% from the field, 36.79% from three, and pulling down 38 rebounds a game. By the time the final buzzer sounded, Tennessee had scored only 69 points, 40.7% from the field, 28% from three, and only had 26 rebounds! Kentucky’s defense and rebounding ability overwhelmed Tennessee completely. The rout had Twitter blowing up as well.
THE WILDCATS ARE FEELING IT ?
— ESPN (@espn) February 17, 2019
The things that went wrong for the Vols, went right for the Wildcats. Kentucky came in ready for the physical battle and responded well. Kentucky was averaging 78.38 points a game, on 47.54% from the field, 35.25% from three, and 39 rebounds a game. They would go on to win this game with a score of 86 points, on 54.7% from the field, 38.5% from three, and they pulled down 39 rebounds. The Wildcats also out-blocked Tennessee 6 to 1 and got production from their backup big men, Nick Richards, and EJ Montgomery.
The top players for the Vols were the usual three suspects. Grand Williams and Admiral Schofield put up 16 and 17 points respectively. They combined for 14 rebounds and 10-12 from the free throw line. Jordan Bone put up 19 points to lead Tennessee along with 6 assists. For Kentucky, PJ Washington, Keldon Johnson, Tyler Herro, and Reid Travis all scored in double digits. PJ Washington led the way with 23 points. Tyler Herro led all rebounders with 13! That is a huge career high for the freshman. Looking at the box score shows just how dominant Kentucky was on Saturday night.
Next up for the Tennessee Volunteers is a game against Vanderbilt on Tuesday in Knoxville. They hope to rebound against a very bad Commodores team, that almost took them down in Nashville last month, and start a new win streak. For Kentucky, they travel to Columbia, Missouri to take on the Missouri Tigers. The Tuesday matchup should be an easy game for the Wildcats if they come to play. Tennessee’s loss makes the run for the SEC Championship Regular Season Title much more interesting.