Big Blue Links for Sunday:
Despite a dominant performance from Jarnell Stokes, the Tennessee men’s basketball team struggled to get its junior forward much help — especially from the perimeter — and lost to No. 13 Kentucky 74-66 at Rupp Arena on Saturday. Stokes, who finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds, had a double-double by halftime as he and Kentucky star freshman forward Julius Randle (18 points) went back and forth, carrying their teams. Stokes, despite picking up his second and third fouls early in the second half, churned on while Randle cooled. But it was Kentucky freshman guard Andrew Harrison who stole the show. He scored a career-high 26 points.
UK’s free-throw shooting, a source of much fan lamenting this season, helped the drives produce points. The Cats, who entered the game ranked No. 282 in free-throw accuracy, made their first 17. That threatened the school record for accuracy: 19-for-19 against Mississippi State on Feb. 8, 1983, and against Duke on March 3, 1930. With almost 40 seconds left and Tennessee in foul-to-stop-the-clock mode, a new record seemed possible. But Aaron Harrison missed the front end of a one-and-one with 32.5 seconds left, so the history books needed no rewrite.
This being a Calipari team, point guard is key. Andrew Harrison cannot match Wall’s quickness, or Knight’s scoring ability or Teague’s toughness, but there is a reason the recruiting services fell in love with his game. Having game is one thing. Learning to use that game in college is quite another. When a freshman becomes more than a freshman is when he learns how to make the adjustments necessary to deal with the circumstances involved.
Because Kentucky shot the ball like Tony Delk and Kyle Macy were in the house. The Wildcats made seven of 16 three-point shots and an amazing 23 of 24 free throws. Andrew Harrison stepped forward as the star of the game, scoring a career-high 26 while making all 10 of his free throws. The Wildcats also did solid work defending the three-pointer, forcing the Vols to miss 11 of 13.
Sometimes teams will silence your strengths. Sometimes they’ll bottle up Randle or send their guards to crash the backboards or slow the pace to a rush-hour crawl. Sometimes you need alternative routes. On this afternoon, the win came because of free-throw shooting (23 for 24), 3-pointers (7 for 16) and Andrew Harrison (career-high 26 points). It showed that UK does not necessarily need to outmuscle a team to outscore it.
Kyle Tucker of the C-J writes that Kentucky won the game with good shooting.
It helps that freshman point guard Andrew Harrison is finding the form that made him the top-rated recruit in the country at his position. He played perhaps his best game for UK: 26 points on 7-of-13 shooting, including 2 of 3 on 3-pointers, with three assists, a steal and no turnovers. “I think this is his breakout game,” center Dakari Johnson said, “because he was attacking the basket but he was also getting others involved.”
The Cats came into Saturday outrebounding opponents by 13 per game, but Tennessee (11-6, 2-2) finished with a 39-24 rebounding edge. The Volunteers had 20 second-chance points to Kentucky’s 10 and outscored UK in the paint 38-26. Those are areas in which the Cats typically dominate.
With Tennessee opting to guard Randle one on one, Coach Cal went to his star freshman forward. Randle responded with 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting before halftime, adding three assists, the last of which led to a James Young 3-pointer that gave UK a 34-32 lead to close out the first. “What happened was we played through Julius in the first half, and you notice we kind of put him on different spots out on the court and then told him to beat the guy on the dribble, and he created for his teammates,” Calipari said.
John Calipari transcript: “I’ve got great land to sell”
The Cats began their ascent to the lead from there. Harrison hit two 3-pointers along with a pair of free throws to get UK within five. Minutes later, Randle put together his own 7-0 run, including a driving layup with 1:31 left in the half to cut the lead to 32-31. Freshman guard James Young hit a 3-pointer on the next possession, and UK carried its first lead of the day into the locker room though the Volunteers held the advantage in rebounding at 23-10.
Entering play Saturday, Kentucky’s 67.2 free-throw percentage was 252nd out of 351 Division I teams. On the other hand, Kentucky led Division I with a 44.5 offensive rebounding percentage—percent of offensive rebounds grabbed on missed shots—and both statistics were flipped on their head Saturday. Kentucky grabbed 25 percent of its offensive rebound chances Saturday. If that were its season average, Kentucky would tie with Lehigh for 329th in Division I. And it goes without saying—though we’ll say it here for the sake of clarity—that the Wildcats’ 95.8 free-throw percentage Saturday would lead Division I by a lot if they shot that every game (Providence leads the country with an 80.1 free-throw percentage).
Good teams win in spite of themselves. They win ugly games, they win physical games, they win when nothing goes right. UK isn’t as good as it’ll be in March, but the Cats 74-66 win over the University of Tennessee on Saturday showed they’re well on their way. The game was ugly from start to finish — one that this team typically would have the propensity to lose.
Johnson’s opening to the court was blocked for weeks by sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein. But as one 7-footer struggled the last two games, the other took full advantage of the opportunity. “He was behind Willie; how well was Willie playing? Not a whole lot of minutes there,” UK coach John Calipari said. “Now, Willie is not playing as well, now you go do your minutes and prove you should play more. Own your performance. And he did.”
Mark Wiedmer of the Chattanooga Times Free Press asks if the Vols are just good enough to fall short?
The late Tennessee basketball coach Ray Mears once said of a particularly frustrating player, “He’s just good enough to get you beat.” Six decades later, one must begin to wonder if the current Volunteers team doesn’t mirror that remark.
“It was definitely a winnable game because we stuck to our game plan,” Vols forward Jarnell Stokes said. “We said we were going to keep them out of the lane and make them take 3s, and they made 3s. That just confused us as far as sticking to our defensive game plan. Once they were able to hit 3s, it sort of put us in a bind as far as not being able to help as much.”
Crowded by a swarm of orange jerseys in the paint, the Cats had to find offense somewhere else, and they found it in the hands of Harrison, who helped Kentucky (13-4, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) pull away from Tennessee midway through the second half. “Harrison did a great job of attacking that ball screen in the second half, getting in the lane, shooting a pull-up, so give him credit for making an adjustment,” Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin said. “He made the plays to really get them over the hump.”
Johnson scored four points and grabbed four rebounds in 16 minutes. His ability to provide a physical presence in the paint made it harder for Tennessee to create baskets in the paint during the second half. “You have to learn to adjust,” Johnson said. “You adjust during practice and in the game. I have been trying to do that and do what I’m supposed to do. I just executed as I was supposed to do. I tried to mix it up and be physical. I just came in and did what the coaches (wanted me to do).”
Kentucky had just eight turnovers, its third lowest total of the season. UK had seven against UNC Asheville and Belmont, eight against Texas-Arlington and nine against Baylor. Randle had four turnovers, two each half. Calipari felt he held the ball too long the second half when the Vols collapsed their defense on him after he got 16 points in the first half. “We played through him the first half and he created for his teammates,” Calipari said. “The second half he held it a little too long, tried to go one extra bounce and that’s the old stuff that creates turnovers. So we just went away (and to Harrison).”
UK’s next five games
- 01/21/14 vs. Texas A&M 9:00 p.m. ESPN
- 01/25/14 vs. Georgia 1:30 p.m. SEC
- 01/28/14 at LSU 9:00 p.m. ESPN
- 02/01/14 at Missouri 1:00 p.m. CBS
- 02/04/14 vs. Ole Miss 7:00 p.m. ESPNU
Videos from UK-Tennessee
Links of interest
- Herald-Leader photo gallery from UK-Tennessee
- Kentucky-Tennessee box score
- Follow John Clay on Twitter
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