For about 34:00 minutes, this Kentucky /Tennessee game was starting to give that uncomfortable deja vu vibe from recent late game collapses against Vandy and Texas A&M. For most of the game, Kentucky had led and stretched out a couple of eight point leads, but the Vols refused to fold. Derek Reese drilled two free throws to tie the game at 56 with 6:27 remaining and Rupp Arena took on that “oh no, not again” aura. But tonight the Kentucky bench responded to make sure that this game would not end in tragedy and start a unfathomable two game losing streak at Rupp.
After Nerlens Noel found Ryan Harrow for a layup, Julius Mays drilled two straight treys to put Kentucky up 64-58. And when the Vols tried to get back in the game, Kyle Wiltjer slammed the door shot with two straight aggressive drives to the basket for layups. He then added a block, a defensive rebound, and a freethrow and when the dust from the Wiltjer tornado had cleared, it was 69-62 with 1:37 left. Ryan Harrow closed out the game hitting 3-4 FT’s and Kentucky walked out of Rupp with a 75-65 win over the Vols.
For much of the game, Kentucky struggled with the Vols as Tennessee played physical and did a great job of controlling the tempo. Despite shooting 56% from the field in the first half to Kentucky’s 38.7%, the Vols could not get get an advantage. Archie Goodwin scored the last 6 points of the game for UK and the Wildcats had a 34-32 advantage even though the Vols had outplayed them for much of the half. Nerlens Noel was an impact defensively, but had no points at the half. Kyle Wiltjer kept Kentucky in the game with a couple of early treys and had 10 at the half.
In the second half, Kentucky started to pull away as a Mays jumper put Kentucky up 47-39 with 13:39 left. But as been the case too many times this season, Kentucky allowed the Vols back into the game and a Derek Reese trey gave the Vols a 54-53 lead with 7:14 left. And when it looked like all was lost, Mays and Wiltjer performed their heroics to ensure the win.