If No. 7 Tennessee’s intensity was ever in question, the Volunteers had the answer, and it wasn’t any clearer than the 1:55 mark in the first half of a 71–52 victory over No. 4 Kentucky.
Grant Williams got his hands on the ball in transition after junior guard Jordan Bone forced one of Kentucky’s eight first-half turnovers. Instead of pulling up for a three, Williams lobbed the ball off one foot to junior guard Jordan Bowden for an emphatic alley-oop.
As the slam increased the Vols’ lead to 34–20, their statement was clear: They weren’t going to let Kentucky embarrass them with another double-digit loss.
While the sequence spoke volumes about the Vols’ performance at home, it said just as much about Kentucky’s brutal afternoon in Knoxville. Tennessee extended its double-digit lead in the first half, as John Calipari’s squad simply couldn’t buy a field goal, going 9:32 without sinking a shot before heading into the locker room with a 13-point deficit.
The second half was nearly identical for the Wildcats, who went on yet another 7:13 tear without a bucket. Kentucky’s 17 total turnovers paired with a forgettable 31.8% shooting performance was more than enough for Tennessee to hand the Wildcats a double-digit loss of their own—two weeks after dropping the first-round matchup, 86–69, at Rupp Arena.
The win keeps the Vols tied with No. 13 LSU for first place in the SEC, and while the top of the regular-season standings can’t get any closer, the SEC tournament is where these squads can make or break their case for a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the Big Dance.
Tennessee is back in the No. 1 seed conversation
The Vols’ hopes of being awarded a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday took a hit on Feb. 23 after the 82–80 overtime loss in Baton Rouge. But this 19-point victory not only keeps those dreams alive, it also makes them realistic. If Tennessee can finish out the season with wins against Mississippi State and Auburn, landing a top seed might come down to a championship matchup with Kentucky or LSU in the SEC tournament.
Williams feasted with Reid Travis on the bench
Kentucky ruled out senior forward Reid Travis for the third straight game after suffering a sprained right knee against Missouri on Feb. 19, and the Wildcats felt his absence. Travis dropped 11 points and collected eight boards in Kentucky’s win over the Vols last month, but his biggest contribution came on the defensive end of the court where he was given the task of guarding Grant Williams.
While Williams had 16 points, he was restricted to only four shot attempts in 35 minutes. But Williams capitalized with the veteran leader on the bench in the second round, draining 13 shots for a 24-point performance.
Jordan Bone steals the show
Despite senior forward Admiral Schofield’s abysmal offensive performance—shooting 23% and 0-of-6 from beyond the arc—Tennessee’s offense hardly flinched. Schofield still found ways to impact the game with hustle plays and a vicious first-half dunk, posterizing sophomore forward Nick Richards in the process.
But Schofield's dunk, nor Williams’s 24 points, had the massive crowd at Thompson-Boling Arena on their feet as much as Jordan Bone. The Vols’ junior guard was on fire from all over the court, and he never cooled down, shooting 73.3% and a scorching 5-of-5 from downtown as the Vols cruised to one of their most impressive victories of the season.