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As the Monkees once said, “I’m a Believer” after UK takes down No. 1 Vols

PJ Washington (25) had a reason to be happy. (Vicky Graff Photo)


If you are my age, you would remember a No. 1 song from 1966 by the Monkees — “I’m a Believer.”

I think you can safely put a lot of folks back into the “Believer” category for Kentucky basketball after what the Cats did to No. 1 Tennessee here Saturday night. Kentucky used a devastating run to open the second half to build a 24-point lead and beat Tennessee 86-69 behind the sensational play of sophomore PJ Washington in front of 24,467 fans — the third largest crowd ever at Rupp.

Rupp Arena was ready for this SEC showdown after UK’s bitter loss to LSU here Tuesday night and should have erased any doubts about whether this team can be a national title contender.

That’s why I thought the lyrics from the Monkees’ No. 1 hit were only fitting:

“I thought love was only true in fairy tales

Meant for someone else but not for me

Love was out to get me

That’s the way it seemed

Disappointment haunted all of my dreams

Then I saw her face, now I’m a believer

Not a trace, of doubt in my mind

I’m in love, and I’m a believer

I couldn’t leave her if I tried

No not if I tried”

Kentucky fans have to be back in love with this team if they had been wavering. UK had a 14-0 run early in the second half to deliver the knockout punch that enable them to withstand the Vols’ 13-0 run that made the game look closer than it ever really was.

Washington finished with 23 points for the second straight game. He was 9-for-12 from the field and 4-for-7 at the foul line. He had five rebounds, two blocks, two steals and one assist in 31 minutes.

Of course, freshman Keldon Johnson was sensational early when he had 13 points in five minutes, including three 3’s in about 90 seconds. He finished with 19 points on 8-for-14 shooting.

Tyler Herro had his first UK double-double with 15 points — despite going just 3-for-11 from the field because he went 6-for-7 at the foul line — along with 13 rebounds and three assists.

Reid Travis had 11 points — all in the second half — along with eight rebounds and two blocks.

“What we wanted to do was play together as team and not do things one on one and we didn’t do that. We didn’t do things we have done all year. I thought Kentucky was terrific. They dominated us everywhere you could be dominated. I thought it was the most selfish we have been all year,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said after his team’s first SEC loss.

“What we were doing on offense we let affect us on the defensive end. They were getting offensive rebounds and getting to 50-50 balls. When we went to small lineup PJ Washington had his way and got what he wanted. Then we settled too much on offense.”

It was UK’s first win over a No. 1 team since beating No. 1 Ohio State in the 2011 NCAA Tournament.

“Plain and simple, they beat us every way you can be beaten We weren’t ready for the challenge. They won the game handily and handled us handily,” Barnes said.


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  1. Ok Larry since you went with music here goes; For those of us that have been ride or die Blue(Ain’t no mountain high enough). For those who have doubts(Relax George Micheal if you are to old google the song). and for those who are now back on the band wagon. a little more George Micheal (You gotta have FAITH, FAITH FAITH BABY!!!)

    1. Good job UKFMLY

  2. Coach Mike is now in the “believer” category….wonder how long that will last?
    Might have to put crow in the dinner menu for tomorrow night because I didn’t see this coming. Our D was fantastic and Herro has really turned his D around
    big time. Anything to complain about…count me in. Our play last 10 mins. was very shaky with poor shot selection and ball handling. How did they go on a 13-0 run in 2 plus minutes? I think EJ should be getting more minutes. Nick came in and pulled couple bone headed plays to show he still doesn’t belong. Quicks has disappeared to back ground and not sure what his problem is. That 22 pt. lead felt awful good even if it didn’t last long. Congrats Cats!!…great time to find your best performance of the year.

    1. Why wait for tomorrow. Crow is better served HOT Man up and enjoy your late night snack.

  3. Color me happy! A great win! They will need to work on their zone offense, but they did not let go of the rope! PJ finally played a game without loafing. Reid kept Williams in check. Keldon has no conscious! Ashton got his groove back on! Tyler was phenomenal! 15 & 13 rebounds…are you serious! EJ is playing with energy. Immanuel is accepting his role. Poor Nick takes a step forward and then 2 steps back…he just doesn’t have a high basketball IQ right now. Now, let’s see how we handle success. Missouri should be a yawner, but Auburn is a dangerous team despite their record. You know the Vols will be looking for some serious payback in a couple of weeks. Can we continue to sustain this level of play? I am eager to find out.

    1. Great win, but some on this site are never satisfied though. This is a dangerous UK team no matter what happens from here on out. A blind man could see it. There were several outstanding performances last night, none more impressive than Washington’s. I saw effort and improvement from Richards too despite his critics. One on this site said Washington loafs, WOW! I’ll just add that the UK defense carried the day last night IMO. Herro was physical and battled all night. UK hit from long range, and won the rebound battle. They kicked UT’s butts from one end of Rupp to the other. Give Calipari credit for getting his team ready to face the No. 1 team in the land. On, on, UK!!

      1. Yes he loafs. Go back to the first 13 minutes of the second half in the LSU game. He has been doing so in most games…but not in the Tennessee game. That is the total effort he needs to bring from here on. He has shown he can do it, but will he do it?

        1. Whatever Catmandoo1000. Bilas didn’t agree with your overall assessment. I heard him say that Washington is one of the best players in the nation right now, and that was not based on his play last night. Other men have said the same thing. On UT’s side last night I guess Grant Williams loafed, or Schofield, maybe Alexander. I didn’t see them loafing. They just got beat by a better team last night. These players are not robots man. It is impossible to go out every day and play perfect basketball. LSU beat the Cats on a missed no review call or UK would probably be leading the SEC right now. What does this team have to do to get you guys off their case? No. 9 is looking like a real possibility.

          1. Wow Pup, you must be smoking something good. I never said anyone should play perfect, just play hard the whole game. Last night was the first time PJ has done that.

          2. I disagree with your premise that Washington has not played hard until the UT game? You are the one smoking something. Catman, you would never be satisfied. After a game like UK played Saturday night how about just shutting your trap, give the players a little respect, and give credit where credit is due. It is very difficult for any player too play as hard as the fans expect every time out. Have you ever been exausted, out of gas physically, just plain outplayed? Have you played sports? Were you always on top of your game? You just got it stuck in your crawl because you were called out for comments you made on this site before the game against UT was even played. There is a time to complain. I agree with that, but it was not after this game nor should it be after the turn around we are seeing this team make at this point in the season. Read the Professor’s analysis. Many experts disagree with you on Washington. Without Wahington UK would be in deep, deep trouble right now hoss.

          3. Count me as PJ fan, too. Can never understand how anyone can consistently question his effort

  4. UKFMLY….I did take your advice and it wasn’t too bad..did have to wash down with Blue Moon. One more thought before this coach retires for the night. Has there ever been a UK team that misses more in-close shots than this one? UT missed a few more than they normally do but they were still more efficient than us. I said I will be happy with a split and still stands.

    1. More efficient coach? Think you better check your box score old timer….by my count we shot 55% to their 41% and completely dominated them in almost every statistical category. Hope your coaching was better than your memory of a game played an hour ago!

    2. The answer is no. And it drives me nuts. But in the words of another great band” you can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need”. Go Cats

  5. Wow what great win!!!!

  6. I think this is the best game UK has played this season; especially, when you consider the competition. They played very good in the first half and only had a 6 point lead. In the second half, I think it was more Tennessee hurting themselves, but it was good to see UK take advantage of that. That is what good teams do. I wish they could have kept the 24 point lead, but you have to expect good teams like Tennessee to make runs; which they did, but UK did not let go of the rope and kept plugging away.
    This can be a good learning win for this young team on how they have to play for 40 minutes against the best of the best.
    I also think Nick Richards gets a lot of nit-picky calls the refs let other players get away with. If he was allowed to bump like Grant Williams is, he would be to stay on the floor much more.

  7. I wish the officiating would simply be consistent, but I know that will never happen. Great win for Kentucky, but I have a feeling that the officiating in Knoxville will be heavily skewed against us. That’s what concerns me most at this juncture. There were a ton of fouls that were not called during last night’s game and I don’t expect that to happen in round two.
    GO BIG BLUE !!!

    1. Very good comment H1. It was nice to see the refs let them play thru contact and even nicer to see more orange hit the floor than blue. We may have had our best interior D last night. UT has had their way with inside offensive efficiency all year long. I didn’t think we could stop them, but we did. My concern at this juncture is will we be able to control the interior like this? UT did not get their usual inside efficiency, but they missed fewer inside than we did. IMO we continue to miss more inside shots consistently than any UK team in long time, and Travis may be our most serial offender.

    2. Nothing was called in the first half. They let them beat on each other. They called everything the second half. That makes it hard for them to know how to play. Its almost like it was done on purpose. Just be consistent on both ends of the court and for both halves.

  8. I believe UK has played like a contender for quite some time, not just last night.

    Over the last 17 years, the champions create a profile.

    1) Adjusted Net Efficiency > 0.3 points per possession
    2) An Efficiency based ranking in the top 8, clearly #1 has won 9 of 17 championships, #2 or #3 have won 5 more of the 17, and #10 or better have won 2 of the remaining 3, and the 17th champion was ranked #15. I look for a top 3 efficiency ranking.
    3) An adjusted offensive efficiency and an adjusted defensive efficiency in the top 20 nationally

    Look at the graph of game by game adjusted net efficiency (ANE-game), and the average values for the season. For the average, there are two values for UK, first is the conventional one for the entire season, and second is a similar version that excludes completely the data from this season’s first 6 games. I have explained before that I do not like the cherry picking tendencies, and only reach a conclusion to bifurcate this season in this manner after carefully considering the first 6 games in contrast to everything that has happened starting with game 7 to the present.

    Since game 7, this team has consistently fit into the champion profile described above. This team is very much in the hunt for the 2019 grand prize. Will they win it? No one can say they will or will not. However, I am completely satisfied that this team is a legitimate contender, and has been for the last 2 months.

    Well, critics want to point to this week’s loss to LSU. However, a team is not defined by its very poorest performance any more than a team is defined by its very best performances. Since game 7, this team has turned in 3 stinkers in games 9, 13, and 24. (Seton Hall, Alabama, and LSU). Over the same span, this team has also turned in three diamonds in games 7, 12, and 20 with game ANE values in excess of 0.50 points per possession. Those 3 games have been against UNC Greensboro, at Louisville, and at Vanderbilt.

    Games at these extremes happen, and they happen to all teams. What defines the team ultimately is the consistent average level of performance, which for this UK team has been among the highest ever posted by any of Calipari’s teams, SINCE GAME 6.

    Yes, last night’s game was a very strong performance, and because UT entered this game as the consensus #1 team in the subjective wire service polls, some are saying last night’s game was UK’s strongest of the year. Not so, but it is probably the 4th strongest game of the year at 0.48 ppp. However, the Cats had similar levels of “greatness” in games 10 (0.44 ppp), game 11 (0.40 ppp), game 16 (0.41 ppp), game 18 (0.44 ppp), game 21 (0.42 ppp), and game 22 (0.45 ppp). Since game 6, the Cats’ average ANE has been 0.36 ppp, placing this team in the top 3 with Duke and Gonzaga. While I do trust this analysis, I am not a believer in Gonzaga given the weak overall schedule they have played, so in my opinion, this championship will eventually boil down to the winner of another Duke Kentucky show down, hopefully on the first Monday of April.

  9. Thanks for the numbers professor, I being saying just because we lose a game doesn’t define the season. We got some think it does and being so negative about certain players or the whole team for the matter. I hope what this team did last night wakes them up. This team is doing something special after such a slow start of the season and they are getting better and better in what I hope for a rematch against Duke..

  10. This was a fantastic win for us. The team looked like a “team.” They had high energy the entire game. I am really impressed at how Herro has become a rebounding machine. PJ has been laser focused for the past 7-8 games,. Ashton found his groove. And, Keldon has his bounce back.

    I thought the refs really let the teams play which was much better than a foul every few seconds. As much as it pains me, I think Grant Williams flops a lot and the refs have finally recognized it. He gets away with falling over like a fainting goat, jumping into folks, and creating fouls for himself.

    Larry, I love the song reference.

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