No. 18 Kentucky blasts No. 22 Tennessee
On day of Hall's death, Wildcats unleashed most energetic performance this season before its biggest crowd in a while
The Wildcats (14-3, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) rolled the Volunteers on an emotional day that began with news of the death of former Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall at 93.
Hall led the program to its fourth national championship in 1978. He was close with current Kentucky coach John Calipari, who paid tribute to his friend and mentor by gripping a rolled-up program and starting in a 1-3-1 defense against their border rivals.
Kentucky then unleashed its most energetic performance this season before its biggest crowd in a while, an effort helped by the return of point guard Wheeler from a neck injury. The Wildcats made their first five shots and 22 of 28 by halftime, with their 78.6% shooting tying a program record set in the first half against Mississippi on Jan. 14, 1981 (11 of 14).
Their accuracy held up for nearly 30 minutes before cooling off slightly and finishing 38 of 56 from the field. Kentucky also went 20 for 21 from the foul line to end a two-game home slide against the Volunteers (11-5, 2-3).
Santiago Vescovi scored 20 points and Kennedy Chandler 17 for Tennessee, which shot 53% but wasn’t close for the final 30 minutes.
Kellan Grady added 16 points and Davion Mintz 10 for the Wildcats, who made 11 of 18 from beyond the arc. Wheeler had eight assists, while Oscar Tshiebwe had 12 rebounds and nine points. Full game stats are HERE 1986367.
Tennessee would likely have won any other game shooting at such a high rate while knocking down 11 of 23 3-pointers. But it kept the Vols close only briefly because they couldn’t match Kentucky’s intensity, pace or accuracy.
Kentucky was whole again with Wheeler’s return, reclaiming its lightning-quick offensive tempo and defensive intensity. But even that couldn’t explain the Wildcats’ uncanny shooting that appeared as if they trying to honor the year of Hall’s NCAA title.
Tennessee visits in-state rival Vanderbilt on Tuesday night.
Kentucky visits Texas A&M on Wednesday night in a meeting of the SEC’s top three teams.