Tennessee beat UK 88-58 — it’s biggest victory margin in 216 games against Kentucky — and snapped a six-game losing streak to the Wildcats. It was Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin’s first win over Kentucky.
Kentucky coach John Calipari came into this week with his worst loss being a 17-point setback to eventual national champion Connecticut in the 2010 Maui Invitational. Then UK lost by 17 points at Florida Tuesday and now by 30 points at Tennessee.
It was only the fifth time in Calipari’s college coaching career that he’s had a team lose by 30 or more points. The others were 88-56 to West Virginia on Feb. 16, 1989; 105-74 to Duquesne on Feb. 18, 1989; and 109-79 to Penn State on Jan. 5, 1989. All came when he was coaching at Massachusetts and all came in his first year. Calipari's worst loss during his tenure at Memphis (2000-2009) was a 23-point loss against Stanford (83-60) on Nov. 24, 2000.
“We gave up four offensive rebounds in the first two minutes — you aren’t going to win. We have to go back to the drawing board. I’m going to have to figure out what we are going to do offensively, and we’ll go from here,” said Calipari after the game. “I’ll burn the tape from this one. I won’t watch it. I had to sit through it, so I’m not going to sit through it again.”
Robic ejected: Tennessee had used a 6-0 run to break a 7-7 tie and take a 13-7 lead when a play that eventually led to associate coach John Robic’s ejection happened. A ball was pinned against the rim on Tennessee’s end and the possession arrow showed the ball went to Tennessee even though it should have pointed to Kentucky because the Vols won the opening tip and there had not been a jump ball since then.
Calipari and Robic both tried to point that out to officials, but to no avail. Tennessee guard Skylar McBee hit a 3-pointer to push the lead to 19-10 and it grew to 24-12 when there was a TV timeout at 11:17 of the first half. Calipari again pleaded his case to official Doug Shows and assistant Orlando Antigua stepped between the two. That’s when Robic said something to Shows as he was walking away. Shows immediately turned and not only called a technical foul, but ejected Robic from the game.
“They (the officials) got the call wrong. John was disappointed about it. I don’t think that he said enough to get tossed, but they did it,” Calipari said.
Shows later called a technical foul on Willie Cauley-Stein for something he said on the court in the second half and Archie Goodwin was called for a technical foul for shoving a Tennessee player in the back after he was shoved first.
Calipari would not elaborate any more on the officiating.
“You can never blame it on the refs. This is all on us,” Kentucky’s Kyle Wiltjer, who scored a team-high 15 points, said.
No Noel: When UK beat Tennessee in mid-January, Nerlens Noel blocked six shots. In Saturday’s loss without Noel, the Cats had just three blocks and all came in the game’s first five minutes.
"That is a talented team, you have guys who can score the ball. We felt like offensively they were still the same team. That is a major piece (Noel),” Tennessee coach Cuonzo Marti said. “They do not go down to him every time on offense. He's a guy who gets put-backs and dunks. The threat we felt like they would pose to us on offense was now you have four guys on the perimeter who make plays and all of the sudden Poythress is your center, Wiltjer is your four or five guy and all of the sudden they spread you out and penetrating, and I thought our guys did a good job accepting the challenge.
“Of course, defensively when you watch him on film and we felt like if there were any breakdowns in the gaps ... we watched him play defensively and you are used to having a guy behind you so there is a breakdown on the perimeter and you have a guy who can block shots. You cannot all of the sudden switch him out after 20 plus games and you say, ‘Wait he is not back there anymore and you are down 15, down 20.’ That is a major piece not to have behind you."
Tennessee guard Trae Golden, who had seven points in the first UK game, had 24 points Saturday and got to the foul line 12 times without Noel around the basket.
"I think it made a difference since they didn't have their big man down there blocking shots. Willie Cauley-Stein can still block shots but maybe not at the same rate that Nerlens Nole could. But you know that didn't matter for us, they are still a good team without him. We just wanted to attack and get to the rim as much as possible,” Golden said.
“I think every team has their own special shot blockers, so I just try to be the guy who attacks and makes plays for my team. But Noel is definitely someone who lets you know he is there.”