Rocky Toppled: No. 4 Kentucky routed in 76-63 loss to No. 16 Tennessee


Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari reacts after a non-call during the UK vs. Tennessee mens basketball game on Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022, at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tennessee. UK lost 76-63. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Hunter Shelton

No. 16 Tennessee returned the favor to No. 4 Kentucky on Tuesday night, besting the Cats 76-63 inside Thompson-Boling Arena.  

After rolling over the Volunteers 107-79 in the team’s first matchup on Jan. 15, Kentucky would not make magic twice against the orange and white.  

The loss snapped a six-game winning streak for the Cats, dropping their record to 21-5 (10-3 SEC) while the Volunteers improved to 19-6 (10-3 SEC), good enough to tie the Cats for second place in the conference standings. UT has now won seven consecutive SEC matchups.  

“They wanted it more, needed it more, were more physical and banged us around,” UK head coach John Calipari said after the loss.  

The Cats were mentally and physically beat down by the Vols. 

Starting guard TyTy Washington Jr was questionable to play on Tuesday after suffering a lower leg injury in the Cats’ win against Florida.  

Washington would give it a go in Knoxville despite rumors suggesting otherwise. The freshman out of Phoenix would claim his usual starting spot, but was a non-factor for most of the night.  

Early in the second half, Washington would go down after contact and eventually limp off the court, gingerly to the bench. He would not return for the remainder of the game.  

In 13 minutes, he recorded four points and three assists.  

“If I had to do it over, I wouldn’t have played TyTy [Washington],” Calipari said. “I asked him twice, ‘why don’t you step back?’ and he said, ‘I can do this.’ I should have gone with my gut.”  

Forward Jacob Toppin also returned from injury after missing the Florida matchup due to an ankle injury he suffered against South Carolina on Feb. 8.  

Toppin would manage to play up to his sparkplug role, making five of nine shot attempts, scoring 11 points and hauling in six boards.  

Davion Mintz matched Toppin’s scoring total despite missing eight shots. The transfer duo combined for 22 of UK’s 24 bench points.  

Kentucky would lead 17-15 early in the first half, but never again after a scrum on the sideline that included UT’s John Fulkerson, Zakai Zeigler and the UK bench.  

“We got manhandled. It was a revenge game,” Calipari said.  

That lead change invoked a 17-1 Tennessee run that saw the Wildcats go nearly 11 minutes without making a field goal. After the raucous UT crowd saw their Vols regain the lead, it was curtains for the Cats.  

Oscar Tshiebwe provided one of the other few bright spots for Kentucky, recording double-double No. 20 on the season, scoring 13 points and grabbing 15 rebounds.  

While the big man produced his usual statistics, he shot 5-15 as Kentucky was unable to find a go-to player on Tuesday. As a team, the Cats shot 34 percent from the floor, their lowest shooting percentage of the season.  

With Washington nullified, point guard Sahvir Wheeler attempted to carry the load but was unable to stay in a consistent rhythm due to foul trouble.  

Wheeler played 36 minutes, collecting eight points, five assists and four rebounds while picking up four personal fouls.  

The Cats could not rely on sharpshooter Kellan Grady, as the Volunteers held the Davidson transfer to six points on 2-9 shooting. After reaching double-figures in his previous seven games, Grady failed to find his usual hot-streak that has propelled him to the top of the shooting charts in 2022.  

Calipari harped on his teams’ inability to get open on Tuesday, citing that they were simply outworked by the Vols.  

“What does that mean?” Calipari rhetorically asked about the lack of open shots. “The other guy is working harder than you.”  

Four Volunteers would reach double-figures scoring, headlined by Santiago Vescovi, who bagged 18 points on 6-12 shooting. Just behind was his backcourt mate Kennedy Chandler, who knocked down five shots and four free throws to total 17 points.  

“Their guards kicked our guards,” Calipari said.  

Zeigler and Fulkerson each scored 14 points, 10 of which came in the second half from each player.  

The Volunteers would make just seven shots in the second half, five less than the Cats. UT would cash in from the free throw line, making 14 of 17 attempts from the stripe, keeping UK at bay.  

“There’s no excuses,” Calipari said.  

Kentucky would pull within eight points at the 13:37 mark in the second half, but yet another double-digit UT run would stifle any shot the Cats had of making it interesting down the stretch.  

While it’s only a few hours’ drive from Knoxville back to Lexington, it’s going to feel like much longer for Kentucky, who have now tasted defeat for the first time since Jan. 22, where they fell 80-71 at Auburn.  

“We needed this,” Toppin said. “It’s a wake-up call. Now we’re going to dial back in and we’regonna go back to dominating.” 

Next up for Kentucky is a rematch with No. 25 Alabama, another team that the Cats have already vanquished this season.  

“We’re one of the better teams in the country,” Calipari said. “That’s who we are. Now we gotta go play that way.”  

Tip-off between the Wildcats and Crimson Tide is set for 1 p.m. EST on Feb. 19, inside Rupp Arena.