Wildcats Downed by No. 11 Volunteers
A native of the Bluegrass State, Tennessee guard Chris Lofton returned on Tuesday night to carry his 11th-ranked Volunteers to a 75-67 victory over Kentucky at Rupp Arena.
The loss dropped Kentucky to 15-8 overall and 5-4 in the Southeastern Conference. It was the fourth setback for the Wildcats at home, which is the most since the 1988-89 season. Tennessee snapped an eight-game losing streak to UK and improved to 17-3 overall. The Vols also took over sole possession of the SEC with an 8-1 record.
After jumping out to an early lead, Kentucky found itself playing from behind most of the way. The deficit never surpassed seven, but the Vols seemingly had an answer for every potential UK run. More times than not, the answer came from Lofton.
With Tennessee clinging to a one-point lead, 66-65, and two minutes left, he stepped up to score seven unanswered and put the game away with his old-fashioned three-point play with only 21 seconds remaining.
Three times earlier in the half Kentucky had trimmed the UT lead to three points or less only to watch Lofton come up with big shot to regain the momentum.
In the first half, Lofton buried three-pointers on three of four possessions as the Vols turned a four-point deficit into a four-point lead, 25-21, with 8:33 to go in the half.
The lone run UK made gave them a brief lead with just under six minutes remaining. Trailing 60-53, Joe Crawford sparked a 10-2 run with a three-point play. Randolph Morris scored a second-chance basket to bring UK within two before Ravi Moss tied it, 60-60, with a dunk on a great pass from Rajon Rondo.
Tennessee halted the momentum with a pair of free throws, but Moss brought the sold-out crowd of 24,184 to a frenzy with a three that made it 63-62 with 5:56 to play. The shot was Kentucky’s lone three-pointer of the second half as the Wildcats went 1-for-11 from behind the arc in the frame and 4-of-16 for the game.
The lead changed hands two more times before a Major Wingate layup gave Tennessee the lead for good with 2:32 left. Wingate finished with 12 points.
But the story was Lofton. The Maysville, Ky., native, who scored 39 points for Mason County High School in the 2003 Kentucky state championship game at Rupp, had a career night with 31 points. Of his 11 field goals, seven were three pointers with two others resulting in a three-point play.
Morris scored a season-best 20 points and grabbed seven boards. Moss poured in 14 off the bench while Crawford and Rondo added 12 and 11, respectively.
The game was No. 300 on the sidelines at Kentucky coach Orlando “Tubby” Smith. His record dropped to 234-66 as the Wildcats’ skipper.
Kentucky returns to action on Saturday when it travels to Nashville to face SEC East foe Vanderbilt. The Wildcats fell to the Commodores earlier in the year, 57-52, at Rupp Arena.