Cats Top Vols, 80-70
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Kentucky's relatively close margin of victory than in its previous three routs belied how it thoroughly controlled Tennessee.
The 14th-ranked Wildcats made long shots, worked the boards and kept their poise along with the lead -- which of course is the biggest difference from their previous meeting against the Volunteers.
Jamal Murray scored 28 points, Derek Willis made seven 3-pointers for a career-high 25 and Kentucky beat Tennessee 80-70 on Thursday night for its fourth straight victory.
Sixteen days after blowing a 21-point lead in an 84-77 loss at Tennessee, the Wildcats (20-6, 10-3 Southeastern Conference) held their ground this time against the Volunteers. Kentucky stretched a six-point halftime lead to as many as 22 for another double-digit win and has won by an average margin of 22.5 points during its streak.
"We're defending better and we defended way better than we did up there," Wildcats coach John Calipari said. "We still broke down some, but we did a better job today."
Murray's 8-of-12 shooting, including three from long range, helped set the tone for Kentucky before he sealed things at the free throw line by making 9 of 10 attempts. The freshman tied a career high with nine rebounds.
Complementing Murray's all-around game was Willis, who has been on a roll himself since becoming a starter nine games ago. That confidence showed in particular in the second half as he made five from behind the arc to help break the game open.
"I've just been trying to keep my feet set and be more balanced," said Willis, whose seven 3s on 11 attempts were a career best. "It paid off tonight and I hit my open shots."
Armani Moore had 21 points and 11 rebounds and Kevin Punter Jr. added 19 points for Tennessee (12-14, 5-8), which got within 10 points in the final minute but really wasn't that close in its third loss in four games since upsetting Kentucky.
Tyler Ulis added 11 points and nine assists for Kentucky, which shot 26 of 62 overall (42 percent) but made 11 of 24 from long range (46 percent).
"They shot it well. They play well," Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said of the Wildcats. "John has his team really understanding their roles. Their chemistry is great and they know what they're looking for."
Right now, Kentucky's quest is another SEC title and the Wildcats took a big step toward that end in gaining a one-game lead over LSU. There's still plenty of time for upheaval with plenty of teams within striking distance of the top spot, but Kentucky did what it had to do for one night with another test awaiting Saturday at Texas A&M.
The Volunteers shot just 38 percent and were outrebounded 45-39 but made things interesting against the Wildcats down the stretch. Kentucky already had the outcome in hand by that point, and that mattered more than the margin.
"I think we were all so determined to beat this team after what happened last game," Kentucky forward Isaac Humphries said.