Wildcats spoil UT coach's return to sideline with dominant performance at Rupp
LEXINGTON, Ky. — Bruce Pearl was hoping the boos he received when he was introduced in Rupp Arena would continue into the game.
Instead, the Big Blue Nation (17-6, 5-4 SEC) cheered its Kentucky Wildcats on to a 73-61 victory over the Volunteers (15-9, 5-4 SEC) Tuesday night .
In his first conference game of the season after serving his eight-game suspension, Pearl dawned his (in)famous orange blazer for the rivalry matchup.
"Good to be back," Pearl said. "Wish I had helped my team more."
Despite the Vols having a significant size and depth advantage in the paint, Kentucky outrebounded Tennessee 38-28 on the glass, including nabbing 15 offensive rebounds.
The Vols couldn't secure loose balls and failed to get the majority of 50/50 balls. By result, the Wildcats scored 15 second-chance points.
"In the areas they had to win — toughness and rebounding — they won," Pearl said.
The 28 rebounds were a season-low for the Vols.
The Wildcats were lights out from three-point range early, connecting on five of its first six shots from beyond the arc en route to a 27-13 just over midway through the first half. Kentucky hit just two triples the rest of the game and finished 7-of-18 from three-point range.
Kentucky led at the break 35-28. The Vols trailed by as much as 19 during the first 20 minutes, but rallied to go into the locker down by only seven.
The Vols went on a 14-2 run over the last five and a half minutes of the first half, including a 10-0 to end the half.
A Melvin Goins' three as the half concluded cut the UK lead to single-digits for the first time since 21-13 midway through the first half
Goins began the second half where he left off in the first, hitting a jumper in the lane to cut the Vols' deficit to five at 35-30. But the Wildcats answered with a 13-0 run to take a 48-30 lead. Hopson ended the Wildcats' momentum with a 3-pointer at the 15:30 mark.
"The start of the second half was difficult," Pearl said. "We scored the first basket, and then they get a bunch of offensive rebounds...and we gave Kentucky some real energy plays."
Goins was one of the bright spots for UT on the night, finishing with a team-high 16 points.
"Melvin Goins did a great job," said Pearl. "Once again against another good guard in (Kentucky's) Brandon Knight. He did a real good job."
Senior Josh Bone, know more for his defensive play, was a spark off the bench for the Vols. The senior hit 3-of-4 threes and finished with a Tennessee career-high 13 points, while playing increased minutes with Scotty Hopson not 100 percent.
"I go in every game the same," Bone said. "Just try to play hard. That's all I can do. Whatever the coaches ask of me, I try to go out there and do. I knocked down some shots today."
Hopson, obviously slowed by his left ankle sprain, especially when he was trying to create on the offensive end, scored 11 points in front of his home state school.
"I thought Scotty Hopson showed you something tonight," said Pearl. "In the sense that he really battled to comeback.
"Scotty did a great jobó a great job," Pearl said. "He answered some toughness questions."
Hopson, who played just 24 minutes, said the injury limited his ability to play effective defense.
"I tried not to worry about it," Hopson said. "It's definitely sore right now after the game."
Freshman Tobias Harris never seemed a part of the Vols' offense. He struggled shooting from the field even with the ball in his hands. The freshman finished with 10 points on 3-of-9 shooting from the field. Harris entered the contest averaging nearly 15 points per game in SEC play.
"It was just a tough night offensively for me," Harris said.
The Wildcats haven't had a tough night at home since John Calipari took over at Kentucky. Under his watch, UK is a perfect 29-0 in Rupp Arena.
For Pearl, he was just glad to be back coaching the Vols, even in a hostile environment.
"It's always an honor to coach here and I want my teams to play better and represent better," Pearl said.
Next up for the Vols is a trip to Gainesville, Fl. for a Saturday showdown with the SEC-East leading Florida Gators.
"We've just got to get better as a team and continue to come together as a team," Harris said. "We know this next game we really have to improve."