Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes
Playing its first game without injured center Nerlens Noel, Kentucky was hammered 88-58 by Tennessee at Thompson-Boling Arena. It marked the most-lopsided win for the Volunteers in series history.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Kentucky’s first assignment without injured star Nerlens Noel was returned with an “F” scribbled in red ink at the top of the page.
Make that orange ink.
Taking advantage of a team that sorely lacked Noel’s defensive presence, Tennessee shot 58 percent from the field and scored 40 points in the paint en route to an 88-58 rout of the No. 25 Wildcats. It marked the most-lopsided win for the Volunteers in the history of the border state rivalry and the third-worst of Calipari's head coaching career.
“We just got smoked,” said Calipari, whose team trailed by 19 in the first 10 minutes of play and 50-26 at the half. “We got smoked by a team that just played harder than us, rougher than us, and we just didn’t battle.
“I’ve had a couple of teams come up here (to Thompson-Boling Arena) and have this happen. They can get on this kind of run up here, make plays, and they play emotional. But it’s what those teams did after that. This team, I’m not sure. You gotta be rough mentally and tough mentally, and we don’t seem to be that right now.”
Tennessee (14-10, 6-6 SEC) got 24 points and eight assists from guard Trae Golden, who hit 11 of 12 shots at the free throw line and did not commit a turnover. The Vols also got 15 points from Jordan McRae and 12 from Kenny Hall. Jarnell Stokes added nine points and nine rebounds for UT, which thumped UK on the boards 39-21.
Kentucky (17-8, 8-4 SEC) shot only 36 percent from the field and committed 15 turnovers that turned into 24 points for the Vols. Kyle Wiltjer led the Cats with 18 points, most of them coming when the game was long decided. Julius Mays and Jarrod Polson added 12 and 11 points, respectively. It marked the first career start for Polson, who was one of two players praised by Calipari in the aftermath of the game.
“We only had two guys compete, Julius and Jarrod,” the UK boss said. “… We learned that a couple of guys have been leaning on Nerlens a little bit, and that a couple of guys, the mental toughness that you need to fight through, don’t have it. We’ve got to figure out where to go from here.”
Some of UK’s more celebrated recruits in last year’s No. 1 national signing class continued to struggle. Archie Goodwin went 2-for-9 from the field and scored only seven points. Alex Poythress scored only four points and grabbed only two rebounds before fouling out in 20 minutes of action. Ryan Harrow scored no points, grabbed no rebounds, dished out no assists and had no steals in 18 minutes off the bench before fouling out.
Freshman Willie Cauley-Stein, who moved into the starting lineup in place of Noel, also fouled out on a day when the Cats were whistled for 25 fouls and three technicals, one which led to the ejection of assistant coach John Robic with 11:17 remaining in the first half. Cauley-Stein finished with only two points, two rebounds and two blocked shots in 23 minutes of action. Noel had been averaging 10.9 points, 9.5 rebounds and a national-best 4.4 blocked shots per game.
Tennessee missed its first seven shots from the field, but at one point made 23 out of 30 (77 percent) without the Noel deterrent. The Vols had entered the game ranked No. 112 nationally in offensive efficiency and had been held to final scores in the 30s on two occasions this season.
• Kentucky leads the all-time series against Tennessee 149-67.
• The Wildcats are 4-4 all time when playing as the AP’s No. 25 ranked team, losing twice this week.
• UK started the lineup of Jarrod Polson, Julius Mays, Archie Goodwin, Willie Cauley-Stein and Kyle Wiltjer for the first time this season.
• UK returns to action Wednesday with the first of three consecutive home games. The Cats will open that stretch against Vanderbilt in an 8 p.m. tipoff at Rupp Arena with broadcast on the SEC Network.