The game felt all but over to everyone at the game early in the second half, as Kentucky led 51-34 with 17:31 left in the second half.
Then the collapse ensued.
Tennessee then went on a 29-7 run, taking a 63-60 lead with 6:12 to go in the game. The Vols then went on to control the game and win 81-73.
Kentucky has always had problems blowing out teams, but the Cats normally found ways to win down the stretch. This game, though, they could not make the plays in clutch moments to win.
The blown 17-point lead was the largest since giving up a 21-point lead to Tennessee back in the 2016 season. Also, the 11-point lead at halftime is the biggest lead that Kentucky has failed to capitalize on and win at home since 1998.
UK sophomore guard Immanuel Quickley tributed the failed second half to Tennessee just playing better than them.
“I do not think that there is a specific reasoning,” Quickley said. “They were a better team today, credit to them. They played harder than us, executed better.”
A big part of the collapse was Tennessee just playing more physical in the second half than UK. Kentucky led the rebounding margin 14-8 at halftime, including leading in offensive rebounds grabbed 5-2. By the end of the game, though, Tennessee won the rebounding battle 31-26, including snagging nine offensive rebounds in the half.
“If we don’t play physical, we’re not going to win,” UK Head Coach John Calipari said.
Freshman guard Tyrese Maxey also pointed to physicality after the game, but also said the team cannot linger on the loss.
““(We were) just not tough enough, we lost some loose balls,” Maxey said. “We dropped rebounds, big crucial rebounds we dropped and it’s okay, like I said we’ve got to get back to drawing board, 24 hours is all we’ve got to grieve and after that we’re back at it.”
Defensively, UK had trouble all night defending Tennessee junior forward John Fulkerson. He finished the game with a career high 27 points on 10-15 shooting from the field and 7-7 shooting from the free throw line.
UK Head Coach John Calipari was very complimentary of Fulkerson after the game.
“(John) Fulkerson killed us, obviously,” Calipari said. “He’s just gotten better and better. He works really hard and fights for everything.”
Tennessee shot 52.8% overall from the field, the best a team has shot against UK in SEC play and first opponent to shoot above 50% since Ohio State and Utah in back-to-back games in Las Vegas. All three of those games, of course, were losses for Kentucky.
If you are looking for a bright spot, Kentucky is still the SEC regular season champions. Also, at 24-6, the record is still much better than many thought it would be earlier in the season.
Kentucky will get to end the regular season on a good note on Saturday at Florida at 1 p.m. The game will be aired on CBS.