After Devin Askew came up with a steal and kicked it ahead to BJ Boston for a dunk in transition, Rick Barnes was forced to call a timeout with his No. 11 Tennessee Volunteers trailing 48-58 with 12:00 to go. But as has been the case for most of the season, one of those all-too-common scoring droughts was right around the corner, just waiting for Kentucky to walk by.
“It’s a one-bucket game with five minutes to go,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “All of a sudden: turnover, turnover, layup, layup, bad shot because we pass up a shot and all of a sudden it’s six and eight (points) again. I mean I was at a loss for words.”
Over the final 12:00 of game action, Tennessee outscored the Wildcats 34-13 and turned a ten-point deficit into an 11-point victory, winning the game 82-71. In that stretch, Kentucky turned the ball over six times and went 4-16 from the field.
Kentucky played a near perfect first half, capitalizing on 15 team fouls called on Tennessee. At the break, six Volunteers found themselves sidelined with two fouls as the Cats went 13-15 from the line. And after totaling 17 turnovers in Wednesday’s loss against Missouri, Kentucky turned the ball over just twice and held a 42-34 lead after 20 minutes.
Offensively, Kentucky was paced by Keion Brooks Jr., who poured in a career-high 23 points on 8-16 from the field to go along with 11 rebounds. Two other Wildcats eclipsed double figures, with Askew and Olivier Sarr each adding 14 points apiece. As a team, the Cats shot 38.5% and connected on just 4-17 from behind the arc.
Defensively things weren’t much better for Kentucky, as Tennessee shot 32-68 (47.1%) thanks in large part to freshmen guards Jaden Springer and Keon Johnson. Johnson led all scorers with 27 points and Springer added 23.
“Again, they (Springer and Johnson) were the best two because they were physical and they bullied us,” Calipari said. “It isn’t like they were jacking threes and going nuts. They just went to wherever they wanted to on the court and either went into your body and shot or just jumped over you and shot.
The loss is yet another in a string of games in which Kentucky was in prime position to win it down the stretch. But as they’ve proved countless times before, they simply couldn’t close things out and buckled once Tennessee went on a run. The Cats have now lost three straight and six of their last seven, moving their record to 5-12 (4-6 SEC) on the year. They’ll take the court again Tuesday when they host the Arkansas Razorbacks in Rupp Arena. Tipoff is set for 7:00 pm on ESPN.