Kentucky hangs historic beating on bewildered Vols

AP photo by Michael Clubb / Kentucky's TyTy Washington Jr. grabs a rebound in front of Tennessee's Josiah-Jordan James during the second half of Saturday's SEC game in Lexington, Ky. No. 18 Kentucky won 107-79 against the No. 22 Vols, who surrendered the most points to the Wildcats in 233 series meetings.

From road warriors to roadkill.

Tennessee's two-year winning streak at Rupp Arena in Lexington was halted convincingly Saturday afternoon, as No. 18 Kentucky erupted offensively to demolish the No. 22 Volunteers 107-79.

Freshman guard TyTy Washington scored a season-high 28 points and junior guard Sahvir Wheeler, the transfer from Georgia, added 21 for the rampaging Wildcats, who led by as much as 32 and hit the century mark on an Oscar Tshiebwe free throw with 2:31 remaining.

"It was almost like they had a magnet in the rim," Vols coach Rick Barnes said. "With that said, I didn't think we started the game defensively the way we wanted to with our scouting report. We were in the kind of game we thought it would be, but you simply can't give a team this good that many points off turnovers.

"They're going to shoot 80% if you let them get those run-out dunks and those run-outs where they were getting to the corner. It's tough when they're making those shots, but I've got to look at it that we're going to learn a lot and that we can take some positives from it."

Tennessee dropped to 11-5 overall and 2-3 in Southeastern Conference play after surrendering the most points to Kentucky in 233 series meetings, while the Wildcats improved to 14-3 and 4-1. The Vols entered Saturday ranked second nationally in KenPom's defensive efficiency, allowing 87.1 points per 100 possessions, but Kentucky's 67.9% shooting was its best in an SEC game in a quarter century.

Kentucky's rout transpired several hours after the death of former coach Joe B. Hall at the age of 93. Current Wildcats coach John Calipari honored Hall, who guided Kentucky to the 1978 national title, by holding a rolled-up program in his right hand during the first few minutes of the game and by opening defensively in Hall's preferred 1-3-1 zone.

"I was going to do it knowing they would score a basket, but so what?" Calipari said afterward in a news conference. "On senior night, we put in every senior and don't care how long they play. This was a celebration for Coach Hall.

"He knew how much he was loved and appreciated before he passed. Our fans have been so great to him, and all I can say is he's been a friend and a mentor to me."

The Vols were led in scoring by junior guard Santiago Vesovi (20 points) and freshman guard Kennedy Chandler (17). Vescovi was 7-of-10 from the floor, while Chandler was 7-of-11.

Chandler's 3-pointer at the 18:09 mark of the first half gave Tennessee its second and final lead at 5-4. A pair of Kellan Grady 3-pointers staked Kentucky to a 12-5 advantage, and a Washington layup after he rebounded his own missed 3-point attempt made it 14-5.

"Our transition defense wasn't what it needed to be," Vols junior guard Josiah-Jordan James said when asked about the early going. "Guarding the ball 1 through 5 - I felt like they beat us in every matchup from start to finish. It's hard to win when you are losing every matchup on the court."

The Wildcats could not extend their lead to double digits until a Washington jumper with 2:06 before halftime made it 45-34, but another Grady 3 with 53 seconds remaining provided a 50-36 bulge.

Kentucky led 52-38 at halftime after shooting 22-of-28 for a staggering 78.6% clip that tied the program record for first-half accuracy. The Vols shot 53.6% in the first 20 minutes, including a much-needed 46.2% (6-of-13) from long range.

Grady essentially put the game away with 17:27 remaining on a 3-pointer while fouled by James. The free throw put Kentucky up 62-43, and a Wheeler layup at 16:47 gave the Wildcats a 21-point advantage at 64-43.

When Kentucky took a 74-50 lead six minutes into the second half on a Wheeler 3, Washington and Wheeler were a combined 15-of-17 from the floor.

"We knew they had good players, and they were starting to feel good," Vescovi said. "They were making shots, and the crowd got them going, too. Both of them are quick guards who can score the ball, and it's just hard to play when they are feeling good like that."

Tennessee will try to pick up the pieces Tuesday night in Nashville against a Vanderbilt program the Vols have defeated eight consecutive times, though this season's Commodores are noticeably improved from the past couple years.

"We're a pretty good team when we get our back against the wall," Barnes said. "We've always been that way. We got our tails kicked today every way that you could, and we got what we deserved. We did not execute defensively the way we're capable of, but I don't want to take anything away from Kentucky, because they're playing their roles really well. We're still in good shape, but we've got to change the vibe with our team."

Said Vescovi: "I'm not worried. We're going to learn from this, and we're going to get better."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.