Tennessee hung around, but Kentucky pulled away late to improve to 2-1 in the SEC.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Kyle Wiltjer scored 17 points and Kentucky avoided back-to-back Southeastern Conference losses by beating Tennessee 75-65 on Tuesday night.
Nerlens Noel and Ryan Harrow each added 12 points and Alex Poythress 10 while Julius Mays contributed consecutive 3-pointers 1:48 apart late in the game to help the Wildcats (11-5, 2-1).
Jordan McRae's 23 points led Tennessee (8-7), which lost its fourth straight and is 0-3 in the SEC for the first time in 15 years.
The game featured nine ties and 12 lead changes and Tennessee didn't blink despite trailing twice by eight in the second half. Trailing 47-39, the Volunteers went on a 15-6 run for a 54-53 lead with 7:19 remaining.
Kentucky outscored Tennessee 11-4 over the next 3 minutes, with Mays dropping back-to-back 3-pointers for a 64-58 lead with 4:20 left. Wiltjer scored the next five points to give the Wildcats a 69-62 lead with 1:37 left.
Wiltjer finished in double figures after going scoreless in Saturday's loss to Texas A&M. He was 6 of 10 from the field, including two 3-pointers, but it was his five points down the stretch that gave Kentucky some breathing room.
After recording 15 points, 11 rebounds, seven blocks, six assists and four steals against the Aggies, Noel followed up with nine rebounds, six blocks and four steals to help Kentucky win a seesaw game.
The Wildcats won it with 13-of-20 shooting in the second half (65 percent) to finish 49 percent (25 of 51) overall. Defensively, Kentucky held Tennessee to 11 of 29 shooting (38 percent) in the second half and 46 percent (25 of 54) overall.
Though the Volunteers didn't get the jump on the Wildcats they hoped, they got an early edge in a back-and-forth game. McRae helped get Tennessee going inside and outside, lofting one shot over the 6-foot-10 Noel along with a layup while adding a couple of jumpers to provide a 19-17 lead.
That created some anxiety from the Rupp Arena crowd of 24,033, but Wiltjer's shooting, especially from beyond the arc, helped Kentucky rally for the lead. That was significant after Saturday's drought against Texas A&M and especially since he came out firing, hitting 4 of 6 from the field, including two from beyond the arc.
Wiltjer finished the first half with a team-high 10 points, including five during an 8-0 run for a 25-19 Kentucky lead. Tennessee answered to briefly lead twice more late in the half before Archie Goodwin scored the Wildcats' final six points on four free throws and a floater for a 34-31 halftime lead.
McRae's 11 points led the Volunteers, who shot 14 of 25 from the field in the first half.
Kentucky started the second half with an 11-6 run for its biggest lead at 45-37, but Tennessee's 10-2 run, including McRae's two baskets, tied the game.
Noel scored four of Kentucky's next six points while contributing a couple of blocks - including a swat of McRae's attempted layup with 8:23 remaining that brought a yell from the 6-10 freshman and a cheer from the crowd.
Tennessee at Kentucky
Men’s Basketball Post-Game Notes
Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky., January 15, 2013
FINAL SCORE: Kentucky 75, Tennessee 65
Team Records and Series Notes
• Kentucky is 11-5 overall, 2-1 in the SEC. Tennessee is 8-7, 0-3 in the league.
• Kentucky leads the series 149-66 and has won the last six meetings. Kentucky has played Tennessee more than any other opponent.
• Kentucky hits the road for a pair of away games, Saturday at Auburn (9 p.m. EST on ESPNU) and Tuesday at Alabama.
• Kentucky started with the lineup of Ryan Harrow, Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress, Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein for the fourth-straight game.
• The teams battled evenly in the first half, separated by no more than six points at any time, as Kentucky led 34-31 at intermission.
• Tied at 37, Kentucky went on a 8-0 run for a 45-37 lead.
• Trailing 47-39, Tennessee bounced back with an 8-0 run to re-tie the game at 47.
• Tennessee took its only lead of the half, 54-53 on a 3-pointer by Derek Reese at the 7:19 mark.
• Tied at 56 on a pair of Reese foul shots with 6:27 remaining, UK outscored Tennessee 19-9 the remainder of the way.
o Harrow got the final spurt started with a layup on a pass from Noel.
o Julius Mays followed with a pair of 3-pointers.
o Kyle Wiltjer scored the next five points for the Wildcats to stretch the lead to 69-62.
o Tennessee got no closer than six the remainder of the way.
• The first half continues to tell the tale for the Wildcats. UK is 11-0 this season when leading at halftime, 0-5 when trailing.
• Kentucky won the rebounding 34-30. UK is 9-2 this season when outrebounding the opponent.
• Willie Cauley-Stein had seven points and five rebounds.
o Has made 24 of 34 shots (70.6 percent) over the last seven games.
• Ryan Harrow notched 12 points and four assists.
o Harrow has scored double figures in seven-straight games and is averaging 15.6 over that stretch.
• Julius Mays had nine points, including the pair of crucial 3-pointers with the game hanging in the balance
o With one assist and one turnover tonight, he has a 25-7 assist-turnover ratio over the last nine games.
• Nerlens Noel had another stat-stuffing line tonight with 12 points, nine rebounds, two assists, four blocked shots and four steals.
o Has at least six rebounds in every game this season.
o Has blocked at least one shot in every game this season and at least two rejections in eight-straight games.
o Has made 37 of 51 shots (72.5 percent) in the last nine games.
• Alex Poythress totaled 10 points, including two-of-two 3-pointers, and eight rebounds.
o His 11th double-figure scoring game of the season.
• Kyle Wiltjer paced the Wildcats with 17 points, the fifth time this season he has led the team in scoring.