By LARRY VAUGHT
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.