KNOXVILLE — Anything you can do, we can do better.
Among a lot of messages that may have been sent by the University of Tennessee men's basketball team throughout its 71-52 victory over the University of Kentucky on Saturday afternoon at Thompson-Boling Arena, that one was indisputable.
After falling to the Wildcats by 17 points (86-69) on the road two weeks earlier, the seventh-ranked Volunteers more than avenged that defeat by winning by 19 and pretty much dominating from start to finish, their lead never less than 10 points over the final 22 minutes of the game.
"We got beaten every which way but loose," coach John Calipari said of his No. 4 Wildcats. "Tennessee deserved this. Great win on national television."
Everyone in UT orange, especially the fans who created a sellout for this one back in November, deserved to take a bow for Vols coach Rick Barnes defeating the Wildcats for the fourth time in four tries inside the Boling Alley.
Having camped out all night to get the best seats in the house when the doors opened, UT's students were lined up halfway around the arena more than two hours before the 2 p.m. tip. A far larger than normal number of cars began arriving equally early.
"Our crowd was electric," were Barnes' initial words to the media after the Vols' 26th victory of the season in 29 games and their 14th Southeastern Conference win against two defeats with two regular-season games to go, beginning at 9 p.m. Tuesday, when Mississippi State visits.
Added Grant Williams, whose 24 points trailed only teammate Jordan Bone's game-high 27: "We've got the best fans in college basketball. When I came here as a freshman and we were losing more than we won, we'd have 18,000 here. Now that we're winning, it's 21,000 (actually 21,729). If I was a recruit, I'd want to be a Tennessee Vol."
It was an amazing scene and performance. It also served as a pretty impressive reminder that a college basketball game between two fairly equal teams often comes down to which team is playing on its home floor.
"Defensively, in Rupp, I wasn't happy with anybody," Barnes recalled. "Defensively, today, this was maybe the best we've been."
Let us count the ways. Though the Wildcats did outrebound the Vols 39-36, UK had 12 more turnovers than UT's five. The Big Orange's aggressive defense, especially on the perimeter, no doubt was a huge reason for those miscues.
But it wasn't just outside shots that Big Blue was lacking in, bagging only five of 19 3-point tries (26.3 percent). The Vols also outscored UK 28-10 in paint points. They made off with five more steals (8-3). They shot 44 percent from the field overall to just 32 percent for Kentucky.
"Even if we'd played well," Calipari said, "they would have beaten us."
If no one for UK played exceptionally well — sophomore forward P.J. Washington was the only one of Cal's Cats scoring in double figures, with 13 points — no Vol played better than junior point guard Bone, who added three assists to his 27 points. Not only did the Nashville native hit all five of his 3-point attempts and 11 of 15 shots overall, he also made zero turnovers against an opponent that began the day with the best scoring defense in the SEC in league games only (61.5 points allowed per game).
"He's a really good guard," UK freshman guard Immanuel Quickley said of Bone. "Fast, quick, gets to his spots. Knows when to get the ball to his guys."
Bone was quick to credit at least a bit of that to his being a junior while the Wildcats always are relying on freshmen.
"Just the flow of the game, understanding the game," Bone said. "It's a huge advantage."
Observed Calipari, certainly aware his five freshman guards combined to shoot 10-of-33 from the field overall and 5-of-17 from behind the arc: "Our young guys played like freshmen."
This, of course, was why some people thought the Vols would win the regular-season SEC title. They'd tied for it last year with Auburn. They had everybody back. Kentucky would once more be led by freshmen, which was also believed to be a major reason LSU and its gifted newcomers would come up short.
But even if UK played like freshmen on Saturday in falling to 13-3 in league play, LSU did not. Locked in a three-way tie with the Cats and the Vols — but already owning the tiebreaker over each — the Bayou Bengals won their eighth league road games in eight tries by holding off Alabama before UK and UT tipped off.
So even beating Kentucky didn't deliver the Vols the SEC lead. But it may have changed some all-conference and All-America votes in favor of Bone, who is second in the SEC in assists (six per game) and has made more than 80 percent of his free throws.
"That's the best point guard in America," Williams said. "His speed, how well he defends, zero turnovers in a game like this."
Bone certainly looked the part Saturday, much as UK counterpart Ashton Hagans had looked pretty good in the Cats' win in Lexington.
"They were the aggressor today, and we weren't," Calipari said. "We were the aggressor in Rupp, and they weren't."
But could there be a third meeting in a couple of weeks at the SEC tournament in Nashville?
"We'll see them again soon," Kentucky sophomore center Nick Richards said.
If so, we might finally have a game that is befitting of two top-10 teams rather than a matchup that twice has been dominated by the home school.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com.