LEXINGTON, Ky. — Tennessee forward Renaldo Woolridge made all five of his 3-point shot attempts in the first half of Tuesday night's game at top-ranked Kentucky.
The Volunteers might want to avoid imagining where they would have been if not for the senior's surprising scoring outburst.
The Wildcats made their first 11 shots and freshman center Anthony Davis was too much for UT on both ends as Kentucky cruised 69-44 for its 48th win in a row at Rupp Arena.
"I didn't think our starters did a good job of setting the tone early," UT coach Cuonzo Martin said. "We had a couple of turnovers early; we allowed those guys to get post position; we allowed them to turn the corner and get in transition."
The rematch hardly resembled the teams' first meeting 18 days ago, when UT (10-12, 2-5 SEC) led by as many as eight points in the second half before Kentucky pulled out a 65-62 win in Knoxville. There was hardly any drama this time, as the powerful and talented Wildcats jumped out to a 12-2 lead, capped by Davis' two-handed slam off a pass from freshman point guard Marquis Teague.
By the time the Wildcats (22-1, 8-0) missed a shot for the first time, they led 26-8 with 8:52 left in the first half.
"They came out on fire," said Vols freshman Jarnell Stokes, who had just four points on 2-of-9 shooting with six rebounds and four steals. "You expect them to do that in a home game. I thought the energy was there, but we just didn't come out offensively."
The Vols shot just 28 percent for the game and would have been further behind if not for Woolridge. The 6-foot-9 reserve, who didn't play in UT's last game against Auburn and was just 1-of-7 from 3-point range in SEC play, scored 15 of his career-high-tying 17 points in the first half, all from behind the arc. The rest of the Vols made just four of 27 attempts.
"Coach told me to play with confidence today, and we've been kind of struggling from the perimeter," Woolridge said. "He told me to make sure that every time I shoot the ball to be confident, and that's what I did in the first half."
Stokes, Jeronne Maymon and Trae Golden each played less than seven minutes after picking up two fouls. Kentucky was in the bonus less than seven minutes into the game and made 12 of 14 first-half free throws. Woolrige's fifth trey pulled UT to within 32-22 with more than four minutes left before halftime, but Kentucky scored the next six and led 38-25 at halftime.
"He's put the time into improving his shot," Martin said. "He did a good job, especially in the first half, of keeping us at bay."
The Wildcats scored the second half's first five points to push the lead back to 18 and never allowed its advantage to become less than 15 points the rest of the night. The 6-10, 220-pound Davis was active throughout, hitting jump shots, scoring in the paint and grabbing eight rebounds. He blocked seven shots, almost single-handedly thwarting the Vols' interior-oriented attack.
"It's amazing how a shot blocker can change the game that way," Stokes said. "If he didn't block the shot, he was always affecting it. He was the game-changer, really. I haven't seen a guy like that as long as I've been playing."
The Vols finished with just 16 points in the paint. UT constantly went to Maymon in the post in the second half, and the powerful yet undersized junior scored 13 of the Vols' 19 points after halftime. UT aggressively tried to score inside, but the nation's leading shot blocker made it difficult.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (16 points, eight rebounds) and Terrence Jones (11, six) also played well for the Wildcats, who got nine points apiece from guards Teague and Doron Lamb.
Martin liked his frontcourt players' aggressiveness in attacking the post, but he would like to see more production from his entire team.
"When you're playing against really good teams, you have to be able to make shots and make plays," he said. "We had 11 turnovers, that was probably a bright spot tonight. [But] if you can't make shots ... that's tough."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...