By LARRY VAUGHT
Just when it looked like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was going to be the reason Kentucky managed to beat Tennessee, the freshman made two fatal turnovers.
Both came in the final minute and enabled Tennessee to rally for a 61-59 win over Kentucky here Tuesday night. It was Tennessee’s first win in Rupp Arena since 2006 and first series sweep of the Cats since 1999.
Gilgeous-Alexander had scored five straight points to give UK a 58-56 lead and the Cats got the ball back with 1 minute, 7 seconds left after Tennessee missed a 3-pointer. Coach John Calipari chose not to call timeout and Gilgeous-Alexander lost the ball with 47 seconds left.
Lamont Turner buried a 3-pointer with 26 seconds left over UK guard Quade Green to put Tennessee on top.
“That obviously was a huge shot,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “He’s not afraid to take the shot and his teammates have confidence in him, too.”
Then with :08 left, Gilgeous-Alexander got caught in traffic and turned the ball over that led to a runout for Admiral Schofield with :04 left and a 61-58 lead.
“That game was in my hands to do something with and I dropped the ball,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said referring to his decisions not to call timeouts in the final minute.
Calipari said hopefully as a coach he helps “my team win more games than I cost them” but he repeated several times he should have called timeouts before Gilgeous-Alexander’s turnovers.
“I don’t like to in this situations, but this team is too young,” Calipari said. “The kid makes the 3 at the top. We still had the ball down one. I should have called a timeout. This one is on me. It’s not on the team. They did everything they can to try and win the game.”
Barnes said he almost called timeout before Turner’s big shot.
“I am sure Cal is doing some of that to take away (blame) from his guys. He’s a great coach,” Barnes said. “I understand Cal saying that. But believe me he’s made a lot more right decisions than wrong.”
Tennessee was 22 of 52 from the field and only 5-for-21 from 3-point range. However, it held Kentucky to 19 of 45 from the field and 3-for-14 from 3-point range.
“Our guys believe in each other and we just talked about staying with it defensively and we would find something to get it done. We didn’t know where it would come from, but we got it,” Barnes said.
Gilgeous-Alexander, who played 39 minutes, had 15 points on 5-for-10 shooting and also had six assists and six rebounds. He had just one turnover until the last minute when he made two. Green also had 15 points on 6-for-10 shooting.
Calipari credited Tennessee for not folding when Kentucky had chances to create a gap but never could.
“Give Tennessee credit,” Calipari said. “It was touch and go and it looked like this thing was ours. But they don’t stop. Give them credit. The chance we had to win the game fell to me and I let it go. We did some good stuff. We had some turnovers that were unnecessary.
“But we are on the right track now. If this is who we are, I am feeling good.”
Kentucky is now 6-5 in SEC play and 17-7 overall. The Cats play at Texas A&M and Auburn in their next two games and could be on the verge of the first three-game losing streak at UK in the Calipari era going to Texas A&M Saturday. Kentucky also has road games at Arkansas and Florida to go.
Hamidou Diallo played just 13 minutes, including four in the second half. He missed all three of his shots and did not have a rebound or assist.
“He wasn’t engaged defensively,” Calipari said.
Kevin Knox was 3-for-11 from the field and had 10 points, three rebounds and one assist in 37 minutes. P.J. Washington was 0-for-3 from the field and had three rebounds in 17 minutes.
“We had some spells that were so bad. Why did you … that’s what young kids do,” Calipari said
Bad spells? That’s been the norm for this team and that’s why I am just not sure UK fans are going to believe that UK got on the “right track” tonight like Calipari said it did.