By LARRY VAUGHT
Not only was Tennessee ranked No. 1 in the nation, but the Vols had won 19 straight games and were unbeaten in Southeastern Conference play before Kentucky won 86-69 Saturday night in Lexington.
After Kentucky once had a 24-point lead and clearly had the game won, UK students and fans started that infamous “overrated” chant. But Kentucky coach John Calipari wanted none of that and signaled for fans to stop — and they did.
“I know how good Tennessee is and that’s why I told our fans, enough of the they’re overrated. They’re not overrated. Probably underrated,” Calipari said. “People don’t realize.
“When you have a team like that that’s been together, that their assist-to-turnover ratio is off the charts, when they create shots for each other, like they do, when they’re that physical with an inside and an outside game, where they don’t rely on 3’s. They only shoot 18 threes a game, like us. We shot 13 today. They shot a bunch more today. But on average they’re shooting 17 or 18.
“They’re not winning shooting 3. They’re winning playing basketball and they’re unbelievable defensively and we got them today, but we got to go up to Knoxville. Do we have to go up to Knoxville? ”
Yes, Kentucky does go to Knoxville March 2 for an atmosphere that will be likely as intense as what the Vols faced in front of over 24,000 fans Saturday night.
Credit the Vols for making no excuses about their defeat.
“We were exposed tonight for things that we’ve talked about like defending and rebounding,” Tennessee junior Grant Williams said.
“From the jump, we weren’t aggressive, and we didn’t establish our inside game,” Tennessee’s Jordan Bowden said. “It was hard to flip that script in the second half. We didn’t come out intense enough like we were supposed to. We settled a lot in the beginning, we couldn’t get inside.
“But, they did a good job shrinking the court and getting the ball. I feel like there was a point where we just hit a wall mentally and we just folded. We hit a tired point in the first half and we just didn’t push through like we normally do. So, we have to learn from that.”