Tennessee showed the grit and determination it has shown all season on Tuesday night. The undersized and undermanned Vols battled the top-ranked team in the nation before dropping a 66-48 decision before a sold-out Thompson-Boling Arena.
#1 Kentucky moved to 26-0 on the season — its best start in school history — and 13-0 in the SEC. The Vols fell to 14-11 overall and 6-7 in the SEC.
Junior Kevin Punter led the Vols with 14 points, while senior Josh Richardson tallied 10.
Kentucky was led by Devin Booker, who netted 18 points, despite shooting 5-of-16 from the floor and 2-of-9 from 3-point range. Andrew Harrison added 14 points.
Tennessee’s defense played havoc with Kentucky all night. The Wildcats shot just 41.5 percent from the floor including 37.5 in the second half. Kentucky made 5-of-22 3-pointers, 1-of-9 in the second half.
The Vols were within seven points for the game’s first 31 minutes. They cut their deficit to four points on three different occasions midway through the second half, bringing the crowd to a fever pitch. Punter finished a layup off a baseball pass from Richardson with nine minutes left to bring the Vols to within 48-44.
Kentucky took firm control with a 10-0 run to take the first double-figure lead of the game with less than seven minutes to go on a Karl-Anthony Towns 3-point play. The layup, which was Towns’ first attempt of the game, extended the Wildcats lead to 55-44 with 6:54 left in the game. Trey Lyles’ putback with five minutes put UK up 58-44.
Kentucky finished the game outscoring Tennessee 18-4 over the final nine minutes.
UK took its first seven-point lead on a Cauley-Stein dunk with 17:20 left in regulation at 40-33.
The Vols hung close for the first half, leading with less than three minutes to go. Kentucky hit a pair of 3-pointers in the final 43 seconds to take a 35-31 lead into the locker room. The game was tied on five different occasions over the final 10 minutes as the Vols shot 54.2 from the floor with Punter leading the way with eight points.
Tennessee received big first-half contributions from unlikely sources in Devon Baulkman (6 points) and Tariq Owens (5 points). Owens had nine points total in 11 SEC games this season coming into the game.
Booker led all scorers with 11 points in the first half.
The undersized Vols outrebounded Kentucky 15-13 in the first half.
The Vols are now 4-13 all-time against the top-ranked team in the nation with the four wins coming in the last nine games vs. #1 teams, all since 1966.
Kentucky leads the all-time series 151-67. The 67 wins are the most by any opponent vs. the Wildcats all-time.
The Vols return to action on Saturday, Feb. 21 at Ole Miss. Action tips at 7:30 p.m. ET and can be seen on ESPNU and heard on the Vol Network.