Big blue beatdown: No. 18 Kentucky blows by No. 22 Tennessee 107-79


Kentucky Wildcats guard TyTy Washington Jr. (3) celebrates after making a shot during the UK vs. Tennessee basketball game on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 107-79. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Hunter Shelton

No. 18 Kentucky beat down on the No. 22 Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday afternoon in Rupp Arena, cruising to a 107-79 victory.  

The win improves Kentucky’s record to 14-3 (4-1 SEC) in the regular season and makes three victories in a row for the Wildcats. 

Kentucky outplayed Tennessee in about every metric, dominating the Volunteers from start to finish.  

“We don’t play much better than we just played,” UK head coach John Calipari said.  

Tennessee entered Saturday’s game with the second-highest rated defense in the country, according to KenPom.  

The Wildcats shot 67.9 percent from the floor on Saturday, including a record-tying 78.6 percent in the first half.  

Both teams would connect on 11 3-pointers, with UT shooting five more than the Cats. Kentucky would make its mark in a big way on the free-throw line, draining 20 out of 21 attempts from the charity stripe.  

TyTy Washington Jr was once again incredible, leading UK with 28 points on 10-13 shooting while adding five assists and two rebounds.  

Sahvir Wheeler returned to action in style, scoring 21 points, his second-highest total of the season while dishing out eight assists. Wheeler missed UK’s previous two games after suffering a neck injury against LSU.  

Resident sharpshooter Kellan Grady was on fire again, nailing four of seven 3-pointers to lead to a 16-point performance. Davion Mintz was also efficient for the Cats, finishing with 10 points on 4-5 shooting.  

Taking a backseat for once, star big man Oscar Tshiebwe totaled just nine points and a game-high 12 rebounds, contributing in silence as the Wildcats scorched the nets for 40 minutes.  

10 Wildcats recorded points on Saturday, leading to the 107-point masterclass, the first time that a Rick Barnes’ coached Tennessee team has given up triple-digits.  

Santiago Vescovi and Kennedy Chandler combined for 37 of the Vols’ 79. Despite shooting 53.4 percent from the floor and making 11 3-pointers, Tennessee was unable to hold a candle to the performance put up by the Wildcats.  

Pre-game on Saturday came with a somber tone, as former UK men’s basketball head coach Joe B. Hall passed away on Saturday morning at the age of 93.  

Kentucky honored coach Hall with a video package and moment of silence before tip-off.  

“This was a celebration for coach Hall,” Calipari said post-game. “He knew what people thought and how much he was appreciated and beloved before he passed.”  

To honor Hall, Calipari opened the game against Tennessee with a 1-3-1 defense, something Hall was known for during his coaching tenure. The banner with Hall’s jersey in Rupp Arena was lit-up during the game on Saturday.  

When it got to gametime, the Wildcats came out guns blazing from the tip and did not slow down.  

Grady would send Rupp Arena into the first frenzy of the night thanks to back-to-back 3-pointers, giving UK an early 12-5 lead.  

The Volunteers’ 3-point shooting would allow them to keep things close, as they would connect on five of their first seven deep balls.  

Kentucky’s output would trump Tennessee’s, as the Cats began the game shooting 13-17. Eight different Wildcats would score in the first 20 minutes. 

“We were sensational tonight,” Grady said post-game. 

A Santiago Vescovi 3-pointer would bring UT within four points with under 11 minutes left in the half, the closest the Vols would get for the remainder of the game.  

Foul trouble would rear its head in the first half for UK, although, as both Wheeler and Tshiebwe would collect two personal fouls before halftime. Kentucky committed eight personal fouls in the first half.  

Despite the Volunteers’ raining down deep balls, Kentucky’s pace was unmatched as shot after shot continued to drop, to the joy of Big Blue Nation.  

The scoring would not stop for Kentucky heading into the break, as the Cats made their final six shots of the half, culminating with another 3-pointer from Grady.  

At halftime, Kentucky waltzed into the locker room with a 52-38 lead after shooting 78.6 percent, tying the record for highest-ever shooting percentage in a half in UK history. 22 of 28 shots that were fired connected with the bottom of the net.  

Tennessee committed 10 turnovers in the first half, leading to 17 Kentucky points. UK also beat the Vols in first half fastbreak points, 10-0.  

“You can do one of two things,” Grady said. “You can let them impose their will, or you impose your will on them.”  

What was one half of total domination, quickly turned into two for Kentucky.  

After Tshiebwe missed the first shot of the second half, UK rattled off eight makes in a row to extend its lead to 24 points before the 10-minute mark. 

Kentucky would go on four separate runs in the second half, asserting its domination on multiple occasions. While it was almost impossible to duplicate what was done in the first half, Kentucky shot a measly 57 percent from the floor.  

While finishing off games has been a challenge for Kentucky so far this season, Saturday was a different story.  

“This game for sure, we knocked them out,” Sahvir Wheeler said.  

Where the Cats really pulled away in the second period was the free throw line, as UK hit 16 consecutive free throws, missing just one in the entire half.  

The overflow of offense was nonstop the entire afternoon. Seven 3-pointers in the half solidified an all-time offensive outburst by the Cats, en route to a 107-79 drubbing of their rival down south.  

“We were so good offensively,” Calipari said.  

Calipari was so confident in his group’s performance, that peaks at the scoreboard were at an all-time low on Saturday. 

“I literally did not look at the score until I walked off the court at halftime,” Calipari said.  

What was just as memorable as Saturday’s performance was the atmosphere.  

An hour prior to tip-off, the student section was packed as the genral public began to fill their seats, pumping up the players during shootaround, increasing the energy levels from the get-go.  

For Calipari, that is what the hall of fame coach wants his team to relish in: 

“This is who we are, this is how we coach,” Calipari said. “This is what it’s about, I want these kids to experience this, it’s why you come here.”  

A 10-day road trip now awaits the No. 18 Wildcats, beginning with a long haul down to College Station, Texas to take on the Texas A&M Aggies.  

While a 14-3 record looks nice on paper, Calipari is much more focused on the growth of his team as conference play chugs on.  

“This team is getting better,” Calipari said. “ That’s my focus, winning will take care of itself.” 

Tip-off between the Wildcats and Aggies is set for Wednesday, Jan. 19 at 8:30 p.m. E.T. The matchup can be seen on SEC Network.