Cats topple No. 1 Tennessee in heavyweight battle


Kentucky sophomore forward PJ Washington celebrates after hitting a shot during the game against Tennessee on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

A battle of national heavyweights took Lexington by storm Saturday night, and the hometown UK men’s basketball team toppled the No. 1 Tennessee Volunteers, 86-69.

The Cats were led by scoring outbursts from forward P.J. Washington (23 points) and Keldon Johnson (19), as well as a nearly perfect playmaking performance from point guard Ashton Hagans (nine points, seven assists, two steals, one turnover.)

UK owned the boards throughout the game. One of the best rebounding teams in the country, the home team won the battle on the boards 39-26.

The first half was hotly contested the whole way through, as the Cats were unable to build the lead they held all half to double digits. The visiting Volunteers’ only lead came early, when they scored the first basket of the game to lead 2-0. As soon as Kentucky started scoring, the Volunteers never led again.

After a nifty drive from Hagans in the waning seconds of the first half, the Cats led by six heading into the break. Washington and Johnson sat with 13 points apiece as the former scored out of the post and the latter shot 3-5 from deep. The Vols were still in the game, however, thanks to eight points apiece from Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield and Jordan Bone.

The second half was an entirely different story as the Cats ran up the score against the nationally touted visitors. UK opened the half on a 14-0 run, thanks to continued work from Washington and Johnson. They’d lead by as many as 24 with 13:23 to go in the game.

Though Big Blue Nation would’ve preferred the Vols lay down after seemingly being run out of Rupp Arena, they went on a 13-0 run later in the half to draw to within 11 points. The Cats helped Tennessee out on this run, fouling two three-point shooters in the process. UK’s lead never shrank below double digits though, fouling out Schofield and Kyle Alexander to keep their physical advantage in the game.

UK is now in third place in the SEC standings, behind Tennessee and LSU. Those two teams are tied for first. The Cats’ next game is Tuesday, Feb. 19, as they’ll play at Missouri at 9 p.m.