Tennessee routs Kentucky
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Defending champion Kentucky is in big trouble. Tennessee was more than happy to make that crystal clear.
The Volunteers pushed around the 25th-ranked Wildcats from the beginning Saturday, cruising to an 88-58 win at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Playing its first game without injured star Nerlens Noel, Kentucky -- and a part of John Calipari's coaching staff -- got run out of the gym by a Tennessee team trying to mount a late-season rally.
Noel tore the ACL in his left knee in the second half of a loss at Florida on Tuesday. A projected NBA lottery pick, Noel will have surgery and miss the remainder of the season.
With Noel, Kentucky beat Tennessee 75-65 in mid-January. Without him, the Wildcats had no answer and were quickly frustrated by the more physical Volunteers, who have now won three straight.
"Great work against a top 25 opponent. Guys did a good job of competing from start to finish," Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. "Just a tremendous effort from both ends of the floor. I think in the last three games this is the Tennessee team I am accustomed to seeing, people are really playing hard."
The Wildcats fell behind 28-12 and assistant coach John Robic was ejected after a heated conversation with an official 10 minutes into the game.
The Vols (14-10, 6-6 SEC) outhustled and out-toughed the Wildcats (17-8, 8-4) from the opening whistle. Tennessee went for 4 for 4 from the 3-point line, outrebounded Kentucky by five and forced 10 turnovers in the first half as the Volunteers took a 50-26 lead.
"The way that we played, and the way that they played, even if we had Nerlens we would have gotten beat -- big," said Calipari. "We had two or three guys in this game who couldn't play; they just couldn't get open."
The Tennessee bench was on its feet celebrating after Kenny Hall's left-handed dunk and free throw put the Volunteers up 66-32 with 14:30 to play. They celebrated with their crowd after posting the largest margin of victory ever against Kentucky.
It was also Calipari's biggest loss at Kentucky.
"This is sports and sometimes it happens," said Calipari. "They deserved to beat us by 50 points today. They played harder, they played rougher and they executed better. They were stronger with the ball. We just had passive guys who did not want to make plays."
Trae Golden had a game-high 24 points and Jordan McRae added 15 for the Vols, who ended a six-game losing streak to Kentucky.
"I thought he did a great job running the team and being Trae Golden. Attacking the rim, making plays, and when that happens everything else falls in line," said Martin. "We got better with our offense, the floor really opened up and I think that all starts with Trae Golden. When he plays the way we expect him to play, everything falls in line and it becomes a fun game. We had great crowd support, tremendous energy, so it was fun to be a part of."
Willie Cauley-Stein, a 7-foot freshman center who is Noel's replacement, couldn't hold up against the stronger Volunteers. Cauley-Stein traveled committed a goal-tend and mistimed an alley-oop attempt in the first 10 minutes of the game. Cauley-Stein picked up a technical midway through the second half and eventually fouled out.
Alex Poythress also fouled out for the Wildcats, with just four points.
Kyle Wiltjer led Kentucky with 18.
Notes: The Tennessee student section performed the "Harlem Shake" during a first-half timeout. ... Kentucky entered the week with an RPI of 49; Tennessee is 85th. ... Former Tennessee football coach Phil Fulmer was in attendance. ... Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes, the SEC Player of the Week, had his string of six consecutive double-doubles snapped. ... No program in college basketball has beaten Kentucky more than Tennessee (67). ... The Volunteers hit all five of their 3-point attempts and outrebounded Kentucky 39-21.
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