Toughness again an issue in UK’s loss to Tennessee


Tennessee Volunteer Forward Admiral Schofield grabs a defensive rebound during the first half of the game against the Tennessee Volunteers at Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday, January 6, 2017 in Knoxville, TN. Photo by Addison Coffey | Staff.

Chris Leach

In head coach John Calipari’s mind, Saturday’s game against Tennessee was decided with 12:33 remaining.

At that point, Kentucky’s best player at the moment, P.J. Washington, would leave the game for good with left leg cramps. In 23 minutes, Washington had 13 points, three rebounds, two blocks and three steals, which were a career high.

After that, Tennessee would finish up the game on a 27-18 run to cap off its 11-point victory over the Cats.

Read: UK loses in Knoxville for third straight season

“Soon as we had P.J. out of the game, we had no shot of winning, because every one of their players at that point was tougher than our guys,” Calipari said after the loss.

To make matters worse for UK, the Cats were dealing with some heavy foul trouble. Just 25 seconds after Washington left the game, UK’s energy guy Wenyen Gabriel would foul out.

That meant that for the final 12 minutes, UK only had six players available minus the walk-ons, and Hamidou Diallo, Sacha Killeya-Jones and Kevin Knox were dealing with foul trouble of their own.

“It was hard for us to get back into our groove,” Gabriel said.

UK was able to control the first half by owning the paint. The Cats had 22 points in the paint in the first half, thanks to Washington and Gabriel. 

Once Washington and Gabriel left the game, Tennessee took advantage by controlling the paint themselves, scoring 24 points down low in the second half.

Tennessee usually followed up the shots they did miss with an offensive rebound, as the Vols had nine in the second half after only collecting three in the first half. The Vols took advantage and turned their second half offensive rebounds into 10 points. 

Tennessee also forced Kentucky to play sloppy, as the Cats committed 14 fouls and nine turnovers in the second half. After only scoring two points off UK’s seven turnovers in the first half, Tennessee was able to rack up 14 points off Kentucky’s miscues in the second half.

The second half belonged completely to Tennessee, mainly because the team controlled the hustle stats. 

“When you’re playing this game, if one team wants it more than the other and is willing to play that way, you’re losing the game, that team is going to win,” Calipari said. “That’s what I want my team to be.”

However, Calipari also admitted that teams, especially ones so young, need to take a, “hit in the mouth to learn.” Saturday’s loss will likely hit Kentucky in the mouth again on Monday when UK slides even further down in the AP Poll.

Calipari knew there was going to be many bumps in the road with this young team, and Saturday’s loss was one of those bumps. Gabriel believes that after taking time to reflect on the loss, they’ll be able to learn how important it is to win the hustle stats.

“That’s when we need over guys to step up and fight, I think when we watch the tape of this game, we’ll learn the importance of that,” Gabriel said.