(Photo via Tennessee Athletics)
Tennessee’s offense is typically a well-oiled machine. The Vols have thrived this year on ball movement, working inside-out with their offense, and playing unselfish basketball.
On Saturday in Lexington, that wasn’t the case at all.
No. 1 Tennessee (23-2, 11-1 SEC) fell 86-69 to No. 5 Kentucky (21-4, 10-2 SEC) on Saturday night in Rupp Arena, ending the Vols’ 19-game winning streak. The Vols were held to just 40.7 percent shooting, and Tennessee totaled just 11 assists on 24 made shots. Those 11 assists were a season-low for Tennessee, and it marked the fewest amount of assists the Vols have had in a game since they also had 11 against Mississippi State in a 62-59 win on March 9th in the SEC Tournament last season.
Tennessee scored just 20 points in the paint against the Wildcats, and they allowed 36 points to Kentucky in the paint. The Wildcats out-rebounded the Vols 39-26, and they blocked six shots compared to just one block for Tennessee.
Simply put, Kentucky mauled Tennessee. And junior forward Grant Williams wasn’t pleased with what his team did at all, calling their play “selfish.”
“I said it coming into the huddle. I told coach Barnes, this is the most selfish I have seen us play in three years,” Williams said according to quotes from 247Sports. “I don’t know what it was. I don’t know if it was the environment or if it was just how guys were coming into the game. We didn’t execute what we wanted to do.”
Williams’ head coach, Rick Barnes, echoed that sentiment.
“We were a really poor, selfish team offensively,” Barnes said after the game. “Again, I told the coaches I don’t know who I’m looking at, what I’m looking at, where to turn. Because, again, we just didn’t give ourselves a chance. Again, you have to give Kentucky credit for that.”
The Vols have been one of the crisper offensive teams in the country all season. Saturday night’s game marked only the fourth time all season that Tennessee didn’t shoot at least 42 percent from the floor as a team, and both their rebounding (26) and assist (11) totals were the lowest they’ve had in a single game all season.
Kentucky’s 39 rebounds tied Gonzaga for the most rebounds the Vols have allowed in a game this season. The Wildcats held the Vols to below 70 points of offense for only the second time all year.
Williams couldn’t get his game going the way he’s used to, either. He attempted just four field goals the entire game, and two of them came from behind the three-point line. He made both of those shots, and he got fouled shooting another. He finished the game with 16 points and eight rebounds while shooting 3-of-4 from the field and 8-of-9 from the free throw line.
But it’s clear that Williams isn’t just chalking up Saturday’s loss as bad luck or an off night.
“We are going to challenge each other, because that’s not how we play. That’s not what Tennessee is,” Williams explained. “It translates on both ends of the court. On offense, we were taking bad shots – they weren’t even bad shots. They just weren’t what we wanted. On defense, we were just allowing them to bully us. They out-physicaled us tonight. That’s not our identity. We have always been the tougher team.
“For that to happen, it shows we were phonies tonight.”
Saturday marked the first time since the Vols’ match-up with Gonzaga back on December 9th that they had played a ranked team. Between that game against Gonzaga and Saturday’s contest against Kentucky, the Vols had played 16 games, and eight of those games were against teams that currently have a .500 or worse record.
Maybe the Vols got lulled into a false sense of security. Maybe they really are phonies. Whatever it is, Williams wasn’t happy about how Saturday went down, and he’s determined to not let it happen again.
The Vols are back in action on Tuesday night when they host Vanderbilt for an 8:00 PM tip-off in Knoxville. Tennessee will get a chance to avenge this loss to Kentucky in just two weeks when the Wildcats travel to Thompson-Boling Arena on March 2nd.