KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WDRB) — Allan Houston scored more points than anybody who played basketball at Tennessee.
His teams did not win as many games as he hoped but Houston does remember that the few times Thompson-Boling Arena was stuffed, the reason was Kentucky was in town.
Kentucky visited Saturday.
So did Houston, who was honored, along with his father, Wade, UT’s former coach.
But this was not a Kentucky-Tennessee game like anything Allan Houston remembered — and Houston was not only talking about the Volunteers’ thunderous 71-52 victory.
“There was no blue (in the building),” Allan Houston said.
“Usually when we played Kentucky so much of the building was blue. I told my Dad that you had to look hard to see the blue today.”
There is a reason for that: Rick Barnes has built a Tennessee team that knew it had to handle Kentucky if the Vols intended to continue their pursuit of the Southeastern Conference regular-season title and to make people stop talking about the 17-point gut punch the Wildcats put on UT two weeks ago.
It turns out that UK coach John Calipari was correct: Tennessee, especially ranked No. 7, is not overrated.
"Now, they're going to say we're not that good," Calipari said.
The Vols responded to their 17-point loss in Lexington by defeating the Wildcats by 19. You can call it even, but Tennessee (26-3, 14-2) stayed in a first-place tie in the Southeastern Conference with Louisiana State while Kentucky (24-5, 13-3) dropped into third. Their place as one of the four top seeds for the NCAA Tournament will also be debated.
The Vols handled Kentucky as thoroughly and relentlessly as anybody has handled the Wildcats since their season opener against Duke. UK looked as if it was missing more than injured senior forward Reid Travis. UK looked as if it was missing its energy, too.
"There's no excuses for the way we played today," UK guard Immanuel Quickley said. "We didn't come with energy or toughness."
"No excuses," said UK center Nick Richards. "It's on us."
The Vols surged ahead by double figures late in the first half, stretched their advantage to 20 (47-27) less than four minutes into the second half and had the crowd of 21,729 standing and blotting out the outnumbered and definitely diminished collection of Kentucky fans.
“The culture that coach Barnes has built here is really impressive,” Allan Houston said. “It’s really a mature group and they played like it. It’s a really balanced team that can beat you a lot of ways.”
Saturday Tennessee beat Kentucky with grit and defense. The Wildcats had multiple stretches where they drifted three, five and even more than nine minutes without a field goal.
Kentucky had no answer inside for Grant Williams (24 points) or outside for Jordan Bone (career high 27 points, including five shots from distance without a miss).
"(Bone) was able to get to his spots," Quickley said. "He's experienced, too."
And Williams? When UK beat Tennessee, Travis had 11 points and 8 boards. His aggressive defensive style helped limit Williams to a single two-point field goal in Rupp. On Saturday, Williams made five two-point field goals, a pair or threes and eight free throws for 24 points.
First Calipari said the absence of Travis was not a significant factor. "It wasn't that," he said. "They beat us, every which way but loose ... we didn't have it. They played with a purpose. It was the first game in a while we didn't play for each other."
Later, Calipari did not sound as certain, reminding questioners that the Wildcats were one man short of a complete frontcourt load. "For us to win without Reid we were going to have to play our best game," Calipari said.
Calipari has a checklist of improvement that he can share with his team when the Wildcats return to practice for the final three, four or five weeks of the season -- with fingers crossed that Travis will be available for the SEC Tournament.
Toughness should be near the top of the list. Kentucky squeezed only two turnovers out of Tennessee in the first half as the Vols eased to 13-point halftime lead.
"They were the aggressor today and we weren't," Calipari said.
They struggled to control the Vols’ frontcourt without fouling. Four of Kentucky’s biggest players — P.J. Washington, E.J. Montgomery, Richards and Keldon Johnson — were all whistled for at least two fouls in the first half — a development that perturbed Calipari so greatly that he earned a technical foul.
Kentucky's perimeter guys failed to apply consistent defensive pressure or make perimeter shots. Johnson missed seven of nine shots. Hagans had five points. Tyler Herro was 2 for 11, failing to score for distance.
Herro appeared to draw significant correction from the head coach -- an analysis Calipari did not dispute.
"I told him what to do and he's choosing not to do it," Calipari said.
Two regular-season games remain for Kentucky prior to the SEC Tournament. A trip to Ole Miss Tuesday followed by Senior Day home finale with Florida next Saturday. Chances are that UK vs. UT, Part 3 will unfold in Nashville.
"Obviously, we're going to see each other in the SEC Tournament," Richards said. "The rivalry is great We're going to see each other soon."
Are the Wildcats still a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament, as many bracket projections forecast this week? Tennessee, which was ranked first nationally in the AP poll for three weeks, also believes it is deserving of a No. 1 NCAA seed.
"It was just a bad game," Richards said.
Calipari said he was not concerned.
"Other teams have lost and moved up in the polls," he said.
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