The unranked Tennessee Volunteers (14-10, 6-6 SEC) made mincemeat of rival No. 25 Kentucky (17-8, 8-4 SEC) on Saturday afternoon in Knoxville, running over the Wildcats in dominant fashion to come away with their 14th win of the season, 88-58.
The loss was not exactly what Kentucky had in mind for its first game after star big man Nerlens Noel was lost for the year with a torn ACL.
The Courier-Journal's Kyle Tucker gave possibly the biggest news of the final result:
FINAL: Tennessee 88, Kentucky 58. Worst loss in Calipari's four seasons with the Cats. Post-Noel era off to an ugly start.— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_CJ) February 16, 2013
With the victory, Tennessee also avenged its 10-point loss from last month in Lexington.
Trae Golden (24 points and eight assists on 6-of-8 shooting) and company took advantage of the Nerlens Noel-less Wildcats, taking a big lead early and never looking back. The Vols led by 24 points heading into the locker room at halftime.
Kyle Wiltjer led UK with 18 points but hit just 5-of-15 from the floor. Willie Cauley-Stein, who replaced the injured Noel in the starting lineup, scored just two points, had four points and fouled out.
Sports radio host Mark Packer wasted little time poking fun at Kentucky:
Kentucky trails Tennessee in hoops by 24 at halftime. Finally the Wildcats are playing like they are a real SEC football school.— Mark Packer (@MarkPacker) February 16, 2013
Thankfully for John Calipari's 'Cats, Saturday's game eventually ended. When the dust settled, Kentucky had been thoroughly dominated in nearly every facet of the game. Tennessee won the battle on the boards, 33-20, and finished with 14 assists to Kentucky's eight.
But the biggest disparity was in field-goal percentage. While Tennessee hit 58 percent of its shots from the floor, Kentucky was able to connect on just 36 percent of its field goals.
Although Kentucky's players and coaches won't make any excuses for the loss, Zach Spear hit the nail right on the head:
Tennessee is just destroying Kentucky.Wildcats really missing Nerlens Noel.— Zach Spear (@zrspear) February 16, 2013
TeamRankings.com points out the impact of Noel's absence on Saturday's rout:
Without Nerlens Noel's presence as a shot blocker, Kentucky is allowing Tennessee to shoot 23/37 from the field. Cats trailing by 30+— TeamRankings.com (@TeamRankings) February 16, 2013
Ryan Gooch attempted to offer a possible solution for Kentucky's poor performance while at the same time capturing the gist of Saturday's blowout:
Kentucky plays poor defense. Tennessee gets every call. UK is shaken by loss of Noel. UT hits every shot. just the worst possible combo— Ryan Gooch (@Maesh) February 16, 2013
Knoxville sports columnist John Adams presented another potential reason for Tennessee's inspired play against its rival:
Tennessee is playing as though it's trying to make up for the 101-40 loss to Kentucky in the SEC tournaemnt in 1993. 33-12, Vols.— John Adams (@johnadamskns) February 16, 2013
Late in the game, the Wildcats finally broke the 50-point barrier, inspiring this tweet from Alan Cornett that put Tennessee's epic beatdown into perspective:
Now Kentucky has surpassed Tennessee's halftime score.— Alan Cornett (@alancornett) February 16, 2013
After Saturday's devastating loss, Sam Bernier is right—the Wildcats are going to need a strong finish to the year to earn a trip back to the Big Dance:
Kentucky getting smacked by Tennessee right now. This team is going to have to play down the stretch to make the Tourney. Wow— Sam Bernier (@SamBernier3) February 16, 2013
The SEC's Craig Pinkerton summed up Saturday's result with this shocking stat:
Tennessee posts it largest margin of victory ever against Kentucky, 88-58. Trae Golden with 24 points and 8 assists #SEC— Craig Pinkerton (@SEC_Craig) February 16, 2013
After Saturday's blowout defeat, Kentucky will return home to play its next three games against Vanderbilt, Missouri and Mississippi State. Tennessee will host LSU on Tuesday before taking on Texas A&M and No. 7 Florida to round out the month.
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