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The No. 10 Kentucky Wildcats fell to the No. 5 Tennessee Volunteers by a score of 103-92 on Saturday night in front of an energized Rupp Arena crowd. Despite the loss, Rob Dillingham was brilliant in his best game as a ‘Cat. Dillingham scored 35-points and added 4 assists to just 1 turnover in just 27-minutes of action. The Volunteers ran out to a quick 13-3 lead to begin the game, and the ‘Cats clawed back to within 3 midway through the half. The game continued the trend of Tennessee growing their lead to double-digits followed by the ‘Cats climbing back into the game with short spurts of energy and defense to couple with their continued explosive offense. The crowd willed the ‘Cats into the half with just a 4-point halftime deficit. Kentucky got within a single point to begin the second half and that was as close as the ‘Cats got for the remainder of the game. Tennessee eventually swelled their lead to as many as 16 with under 10-minutes to play in the game. Kentucky, led by Dillingham and Sheppard, continued to fight back and got within 7-points with 5-minutes to play. The Volunteers hit their free-throws down the stretch and dominated the offensive glass in crucial moments to erase any hope for Kentucky. The ‘Cats were dreadful on the boards in big situations throughout the night, but it won’t show up on the box score as they were just outrebounded by 6. Tennessee was more focused from the moment the night began, executing their offense and winning the battle for loose balls. Without their starting PG in Wagner, the ‘Cats just couldn’t quite get over the hump at any point during the game. It never felt like the ’Cats had a realistic chance to climb back and pull out the win, despite playing in front of the rowdy crowd. When the final buzzer sounded, the ‘Cats fell and took a conference home loss for the second time this week (Wednesday night loss to Florida in OT, 94-91). Kentucky fell to 5-4 in conference play, good for 5th in the standings, but is now within a game of falling all the way to as low as 10th in the standings. The game was critical to the ‘Cats hopes of a regular season SEC title, which are now all but zero. It might even be time to begin to consider where the ‘Cats may potentially fall in the seedings for the NCAA tournament, which tips off next month. While the ‘Cats were sitting around a 2-seed at the start of January, the ‘Cats are barely holding on to a 5-seed at the moment. Defense continues to be the weak link for the ‘Cats, and time is running out for any hope to drastically improve on that end of the floor. The ‘Cats will continue to run the Hal Mumme offense (…and defense) on the court in hopes of just piling up more points than the other team.

Tennesee entered Saturday nights game with a 15-5 record on the season and a 5-2 record in conference play. They also fell to a conference opponent at home earlier this week, losing to South Carolina in Knoxville, 63-59. The Volunteers entered the game ranked No. 5 in the AP Poll and No. 5 in the NET rankings (Kentucky No. 25 in NET). Tennessee is led by Dalton Knecht (20.1 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.8 APG, 40% 3PT), Jonas Aidoo (11.6 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 1.1 APG), and Zakai Zeigler (9.8 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 5.0 APG).

The spread for Saturday night’s matchup versus Tennessee was -1.5 (UK). The Over/Under points total was set at 158.5.

With Wagner still out with an ankle injury the ‘Cats starting lineup featured Reed Sheppard, Antonio Reeves, Justin Edwards, Tre Mitchell, and Ugonna Onyenso.

Game Recap:

First Half

Tennessee won the opening tip and scored the first points of the game on a Zeigler three. The ‘Cats turned the ball over on their first possession of the game off an errant Onyenso pass. Jordan-James then hit another three for the Volunteers to extend their lead to 6-0. The ‘Cats ended an 8-0 Tennessee run with a Sheppard three. The Vols responded with a mid-range jumper. The Vols found a loose ball and another open three and took a 13-3 lead with 16:36-minutes to play in the half. Tennessee hit 3 early threes to start the game. Reeves hit a step-back mid-range jumper. Tennessee found an offensive rebound and Zeigler hit a three to reward the Vols. Kentucky trailed 16-5 at the first media timeout. Sheppard nailed a floater for Kentucky. Gainey responded with another three, but Dillingham nailed his first three of the game to bring the score to 19-10 Tennessee. Thiero made the extra pass and Dillingham nailed another three, Onyenso followed with a block at the rim. Dillingham played physical defense against Knecht and the ‘Cats finally found a rebound. Mitchell found a wide-open Onyenso for a slam, but Zeigler streaked to the rim for an easy lay-in. Dillingham stopped and popped a long two point jumper. Kentucky played much better in the second stretch of the game to this point, trailing just 23-17 at the under 12-minute timeout. Dillingham beat the shot-clock buzzer with another three. Tennessee responded with two baskets. Sheppard was blocked at the rim by Aidoo. Sheppard turned the ball over but fought back on defense with a block in transition. Knecht his a three in the corner. Edwards hit a mid-range jumper. Zeigler hit a deep three for Tennessee with Reeves in his face. Knecht drove to the bucket for an and-one opportunity. The Vols led 36-22 after the free-throw. Edwards hit a curling jump shot on the elbow for the ‘Cats. Bradshaw cleaned up a Sheppard layup for a score. Edwards nailed a three after a Zeigler layup. Reeves drove to the rim for an easy layup to cut the deficit to 38-31 Tennessee. Reeves was fouled hard on a transition run out by Zeigler. Reeves saved a loose ball into Dillingham for a deep three for Kentucky. The ‘Cats defense forced a shot-clock violation on the next possession. Tennessee scored back-to-back baskets after a missed foul call on Tennessee that left Coach Cal heated. The Vols led 42-34 with 3:19-minutes to play. Dillingham nailed another three out of the timeout. Reeves hit a three after a Tennessee layup. Dillingham fouled Vescovi on a three point attempt. He hit 2 of 3 and Tennessee led 46-40. Reeves hit a step-back mid-range jumper at the free-throw line. The ’Cats couldn’t get a clean look to end the half and trailed 46-42 at halftime.

The Volunteers shot 47% from the field and from beyond the arc (7 of 15 3PT) in the first half. The Volunteers had 12 assists and 6 turnovers along with 3 steals in the half. They were led by Zeigler with 13 first half points. Kentucky shot 46% from the field and 47% from three-point range (8 of 17 3PT). Kentucky had 12 assists to 5 turnovers in the half, adding 3 steals. Dillingham led the ‘Cats in scoring with 17 points in 14-minutes (5 of 6 3PT).

Halftime: Kentucky 42 – Tennessee 46

Second Half

Sheppard hit the first three of the half to bring the ‘Cats within 1 at 46-45 after a cold start from both teams to begin the half. Aidoo cleaned up a miss with a jam for the first Tennessee points. James hit a three off a offensive board for the Vols. Reeves curled to the rim for an angled lay-in. Vescovi hit a deep three with Sheppard’s inability to get off the screen. The ‘Cats struggled to play through contact with the lack of a consistent whistle. Tennessee led 54-47 at the first media timeout. James hit another three out of the timeout to push the lead to 10. Zeigler drove to the rim for an easy layup. Thiero found an offensive board for a score. Thiero was fouled on a transition take and went to the line for two shots. He hit both. Dillingham curled and scored at the rim with a leaning layup. But the ‘Cats didn’t get back and allowed another Zeigler layup. Bradshaw, Dillingham and Awaka got into a scuffle after a rebound and foul called against the ‘Cats. Tennessee led 63-53 at this point in the game with 12:41-minuts to play. Bradshaw picked up a common foul and dead-ball foul, Dillingham, Gainey, and Awaka picked up dead-ball fouls. Tennessee freed up Knecht for a dunk out of the timeout. Dillingham picked up his fourth foul on a Zeigler drive with 12-minutes to play. Sheppard nailed a corner three as the ‘Cats trailed 67-58. The ‘Cats trailed 69-58 at the under 12-minute media timeout. Thiero hit both free-throws out of the timeout and the score sat at 69-60 Vols. A quick 7-0 run gave Tennessee their biggest lead of the game at 16 by a score of 76-60. Dillingham ended the run with a layup, playing with 4 fouls. Thiero was fouled on a rebound and went back to the line for free-throws. He hit both. The ‘Cats trailed 76-64 with 7:52-minutes to play. Dillingham hit a mid-range jumper to follow a James jumper. Dillingham hit two shots and Sheppard nailed a deep three with Zeigler in his face. The ‘Cats quickly drew within 7, 78-71 Tennessee with 5-minutes to play. James hit a floater out of the timeout, but Sheppard drove to the rim and converted an and-one chance. The ‘Cats trailed 80-73 after the missed free-throw. The ‘Cats rejected the alley-oop chance as the shot-clock was winding down but Zeigler found the ball and threw it in for a score. The ‘Cats trailed 82-73 with 4-minutes to play. Reeves hit a floater off the bank. Mashack cleaned the glass for the Vols with a putback off a big miss. James hit a three with Dillingham outstretched in front of him for a 87-76 lead. The ‘Cats began fouling early in an attempt to lengthen the game. Dillingham continued to shine on offense with a jumper and a three that brought the score to 93-85 with 53-seconds to play. The ‘Cats continued to foul and run the floor to trade buckets with the Vols. Kentucky went on to fall to Tennessee by a score of 103-92.

Final: Kentucky 92 – Tennessee 103

Game Stats:

Tennessee FG %: 49% (40% 3PT – 12 of 30) (73% FT – 19 of 26)

Kentucky FG %: 49% (44% 3PT – 12 of 27) (63% FT – 12 of 19)

Rebounds: 44 – 38 Tennessee 

Assist/Turnover Ratio: 17:9

Turnovers: UK (9), Tennessee (7)

Bench Points: 46 – 13 Kentucky

Points off Turnovers: 10 – 6 Tennessee

Fast Break Points: 19 – 16 Kentucky

Paint Points: 42 – 30 Tennessee

Player Stats:

Rob Dillingham – [(35 points) (1 rebound) (4 assists) (2 steals) (+5 +/- in 27-min)]

Antonio Reeves – [(21 points (2 rebounds) (3 assists) (1 steal)]

Reed Sheppard – [(16 points) (5 rebounds) (6 assists) (2 blocks)]

Adou Thiero – [(9 points) (6 rebounds) (3 assists)]

Justin Edwards – [(7 points) (4 rebounds)]

Ugonna Onyenso – [(2 points) (6 rebounds) (4 blocks)]

Aaron Bradshaw – [(2 points) (6 rebounds)]

Tre Mitchell – [(5 rebounds) (1 assist)]

Jordan Burks – [(1 rebound)]

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