Lexington, KY – A poised, all-around effort in the closing minutes lifted 15th-ranked Tennessee to a 61-59 victory over 24th-ranked Kentucky Saturday night at Rupp Arena. The Volunteers have now won six straight games and stand alone in second place in the Southeastern Conference standings.
The triumph was Tennessee’s fifth all-time win over the Wildcats at Rupp Arena (1977, 1979, 1999, 2006). It also gave the Vols (18-5, 8-3 SEC) their first regular-season sweep over Kentucky since the 1998-99 season.
SEC Sixth Man of the Year candidate Lamonte Turner drained the go-ahead 3-pointer with 26 seconds left to play and finished as Tennessee’s top scorer on the night with a game-high 16 points.
Neither team led by more than three points until a pair of free throws by Williams gave UT a 50-46 advantage just inside the five-minute mark.
A putback basket in transition by Kentucky’s Jarred Vanderbilt tied the game at 50 inside the four-minute mark, and a Tennessee turnover coming out of the final media timeout then enabled Kentucky’s top scorer, Kevin Knox, to complete a three-point play that gave the Wildcats a 53-50 lead with 3:17 to play.
Kentucky (17-7, 6-5 SEC) retained its lead until the 1:53 mark, when Williams knotted the score at 56 with two free throws.
But Wildcats guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander—who finished with 15 points, six rebounds and six assists—put the Wildcats back on top by two with a floater in the lane.
Moments later, a diving defensive effort on the perimeter by Vols junior Kyle Alexander forced a Kentucky turnover, and rather than call a timeout, Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes opted to let the Vols run offense. The decision paid off, as Turner found space to launch the 3-pointer that gave the Big Orange a 59-58 lead.
A breakaway slam dunk by Schofield off Kentucky’s 15th and final turnover of the night made the final score 61-59 and ran the Volunteers’ win streak to six games.
Powered by a 3-for-4 performance from 3-point range, Turner led the Vols with 11 first-half points as Tennessee took a 27-26 lead into the break.
Both teams struggled to find any rhythm on the offensive end during the first 20 minutes, which featured nine lead changes.
Alexander totaled four points, two rebounds and two blocks in the first half despite playing just six minutes before heading to the bench with his second foul. Alexander’s absence in the paint late in the half enabled Kentucky to make six of its final seven field-goal attempts heading into the break.
Alexander’s final stat line included six points, four rebounds, two blocks and arguably the biggest steal of his career.
During Tennessee’s current six-game win streak, the Vols have not allowed an opponent to score more than 63 points. The Vols’ scoring defense during the streak stands at 58.5 points allowed per game.
Vols Sweep Rivals
Tennessee has now completed the regular-season sweep of “permanent opponents” Vanderbilt and Kentucky this season. Tennessee’s third permanent opponent is South Carolina. The Vols defeated the Gamecocks last month in Columbia and host the Gamecocks at Thompson-Boling Arena next Tuesday, February 13th, at 8:00pm CT. Tickets remain available by visiting AllVols.com or calling the UT Ticket Office at 1.800.332.8657.
Sixth Man of the Year
Despite not starting a game for the Vols this season, sophomore guard Lamonte Turner is Tennessee’s third leading scorer, averaging 11.0 ppg overall and 12.6 ppg in SEC play. Turner has come off the bench to score 15 or more points seven times and has scored 20 or more points four times this season.
Next Up for Tennessee Men’s Basketball
The 15th-ranked Volunteers remain on the road this weekend, traveling to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to face the Alabama Crimson Tide Saturday, February 10th at 5:00pm CT (SEC Network).