Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Rapid Reaction: Kentucky 73, Tennessee 61
By Brian Bennett
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Some quick early thoughts after No. 18 Kentucky's 73-61 win over Tennessee at Rupp Arena on Tuesday night:
Bruce Pearl came back to the bench, but his Volunteers had to play catchup all night. They fell behind 33-14 in the first half before making a 16-2 run to get within five points early in the second half. But then Kentucky answered with a 13-0 run and got the lead back up to 18. Tennessee struggled with turnovers all night and got beat up on the boards by the Wildcats.
Kentucky continues to be a completely different team at home. All six of its losses have come away from Rupp Arena, where they have now won 30 straight. Tuesday's win snapped the first two-game losing streak in John Calipari's tenure and left the Wildcats tied for second in the SEC East at 5-4, two games behind frontrunner Florida.
Kentucky's DeAndre Liggins was the player of the game. The junior matched his career high with 19 points and more than made up for an off night by leading scorer Terrence Jones, who was just 2-for-9 from the field. Liggins also added five steals, five rebounds and three assists in arguably his best game in a Wildcats uniform.
The unsung hero? Wildcats center Josh Harrellson. He scored 16 points, his most since a 23-point outing against Louisville on New Year's Eve. Harrellson had been in double figures only once since that game. He outplayed Tennessee's bigs in the second half.
The turning point came early in the second half after Tennessee cut the lead to 35-30. That's when Brandon Knight took over, with some help from Harrellson. The Wildcats let the Volunteers back in the game when Knight picked up his second foul in the first half and their offense stalled. During that second half run, he nailed a 3, put back a miss and made two pretty passes to Harrellson inside for buckets.
Tennessee leading scorer Scotty Hopson returned from his left ankle injury after a two-game absence, but he was clearly not at full strength. He had just 11 points on 3-of-8 shooting.
Pearl heard a few boos and was heckled mercilessly by a group of fans right behind the Tennessee bench. The loudest the crowd got during the night, however, was when Washington Wizards guard John Wall came out to midcourt during a second-half timeout. Wall, who made his first Rupp appearance since leaving Kentucky after his freshman year to become the No. 1 pick in the draft, received a standing ovation.