By Ron Wynn
Kentucky continues UT losing streak
Tennessee has never fared well in Rupp Arena, and nothing changed Tuesday night. The Volunteers made a gallant second half comeback and even had a brief lead, but were finally defeated 75-65. It was their third straight conference loss, and 34th defeat in 38 tries at Rupp Arena. They have also lost four straight games overall.
Some familiar problems resurfaced. One was the inability of heralded inside player Jarnell Stokes to contribute much offensively or defensively. He had foul problems, and was only on the court for five second half minutes. He managed just five shots, making two of them while not going to the foul line, and grabbing five redounds. The only Tennessee player whose offensive effort matched their defensive intensity was Jordan McRae. He had 23 points. Another problem was the continued ineffectiveness of former starting point guard Trae Golden, now reduced to a bench role. Golden hit three of seven shots and provided six assists, but has not been close to the force he was last season.
It also didn’t help that UT shot zero free throws in the first half. Whether that was a lack of aggressiveness or Kentucky getting some homecourt officiating, the Wildcats ended with a 31-17 advantage in free throw attempts. Tennessee made 11 of their shots from the line, while Kentucky made 19 of 31.
Still, a bigger key was UK’s balanced scoring attack. They had four players in double figures, two of them reserves. The game’s biggest shots were two three-pointers from Julius Mays, plus consecutive baskets by Kyle Wiltjer in the final five minutes. Wiltjer led Kentucky scorers with 17 points. Nerlens Noel had 12 points, nine rebounds, six blocked shots and four steals. Kentucky made 13 of 20 second half shots, many of them with little time remaining on the shot clock or under tight defensive pressure.
UT coach Cuonzo Martin told the Knoxville News-Sentinel that he didn’t think it was time to panic. “I think we’re fine,” Martin said. “As long as we play like we’re playing now, it’s a matter of getting home, getting over that hump.” But the ugly reality is Tennessee is 0-3 (8-7 overall) and in trouble. Their next game is Saturday at home against Mississippi State. It’s a 3 p.m. contest that will be carried on WUXP-30.
The Lady Vols face Auburn Thursday, and entertain Alabama Sunday. The Thursday game is at 8 p.m., and will be on CSS. The Sunday game is also on CSS and begins at 12 noon.