By Jimmy Hyams
Kentucky is the blue blood.
Tennessee is the new blood.
For the fourth year in a row, Tennessee defeated Kentucky 71-52 in a dominating performance at sold out Thompson-Boling Arena. It’s the first time UT has won four in a row in Knoxville over the Wildcats (24-5, 13-3 SEC) since taking seven in a row from 1979-85.
The seventh-ranked Vols (26-3, 14-2 SEC) are back in position to win consecutive SEC regular-season titles for the first time ever.
They are likely to move ahead of fourth-ranked Kentucky in the polls and in the all-important Joe Lunardi brackets.
And they are back in the conversation for being a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Tennessee has also had back-to-back 25 win seasons for the first time ever and has won 25 in a row at home.
Tennessee whipped Kentucky as bad as the Cats routed the Vols in Rupp Arena Feb. 16 thanks mainly to a suffocating defense. Kentucky, which shot 54% in Rupp, hit only 31.8% — and just 5 of 19 on 3s. Conversely, UT shot 43.5% — 50% in the second half – and canned 8 of 22 on 3s. UT also outscored UK 28-10 in the point and stayed within three in rebounds compared to the 39-26 disadvantage in Rupp.
It wasn’t hard to figure out the 36 point scoring differential in the two games.
“They were the aggressor today and we weren’t,’’ Kentucky coach John Calipari said, “We were the aggressor and they weren’t at our place.’’
Tennessee coach Rick Barnes agreed. He also applauded his team’s defense, physicality and the play of point guard Jordan Bone.
In a game with plenty of NBA prospects, Bone was the best player on the court. He scored a career-high 27 points on 5-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc and 11 of 15 overall. He also had three rebounds, three assists and no turnovers.
And each time Kentucky made a mini-run, Bone hit a clutch shot, whether a 3-pointer or a driving layup.
“He really was (brilliant),’’ Barnes said of Bone.
Bone is playing about 10 more minutes per game this year and Barnes felt the extra minutes Bone accrued in December when teammate Lamonte Turner was out with a shoulder injury has proven beneficial.
Asked if this was his best game in a UT uniform, Bone said, “I don’t know, you tell me.’’
Bone did say it might have been his best offensive outing but he felt he played better defense a few days ago against Ole Miss.
Bone bemoaned the fact that Kentucky was the more physical team in the first matchup and wanted it more than the Vols.
“You don’t ever want to say that after a game,’’ Bone said.
Bone and his teammates don’t have to.
There was one other difference in the two contests between the SEC’s top two ranked teams: Kentucky didn’t have senior transfer Reid Travis, out with an injury. UK missed his toughness and consistency, Calipari said.
“We would have had to play one of our best games in 10 years to win without Reid Travis,’’ Calipari said. “Even if we’d played well, they’d have beaten us the way they played. They fought and battled.’’
Calipari added: “We had some guys intimidated by the situation and they couldn’t make shots. … We played like freshmen. We played like a deer in headlights.’’
Bone wasn’t UT’s only star. Grant Williams, who might have cemented SEC Player of Year honors for the second year in a row, had 24 points and seven rebounds and outplayed UK’s PJ Washington, who was held to 13 points and three rebounds.
Good thing Bone and Williams combined for 51 points because UT didn’t get much out of Admiral Schofield (7 points on 3 of 13 shooting), Lamonte Turner (4 points on 2 of 10 shooting) and Kyle Alexander (0 points, six rebounds and five fouls).
Turner and Schofield were 0 of 10 from 3-point range.
But that didn’t matter, not when the SEC’s best point guard and the reigning SEC player of the year were carrying the Vols.
PARTING SHOT: Calipari, whose team was a No. 1 seed entering the UT game, according to Lunardi, was asked if the loss to Tennessee would hurt Kentucky’s chances of being a No. 1 seed.
“No, because other teams lose and they move up in the polls,’’ Calipari said.
PARTING SHOT 2: Kentucky had what appears to be the smallest following ever at Thompson-Boling Arena, which is more than 30 years old.
It looked like fewer than 100 from the Big Blue Nation were in the stands.
Observers said UT had almost 500 fans in Rupp Arena two weeks ago.
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