By Jamie H. Vaught
For the No. 20 Kentucky Wildcats, it was the Knoxville Shocker.
For the struggling Tennessee Volunteers, it was the Knoxville Miracle.
And that's exactly what happened Tuesday night, Feb. 2, before a noisy crowd of 19,295 at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville.
Coach Rick Barnes and his undersized Tennessee club, which was playing under .500 basketball, surprisingly found a way to defeat Kentucky 84-77 in a foul-plagued SEC rivalry matchup after overcoming a 21-point deficit.
During the first half, the fans certainly thought the Cats -- coming off an overtime loss to Kansas Saturday night in one of this season's most thrilling college basketball games -- were heading for a rare blowout win on the road when they raced to a 34-13 lead with less than six minutes left.
But that didn’t happen as the Vols bounced back, closing out the opening half with a 42-36 deficit, a 15-point turnaround, with the help of their perfect free throw shooting. Tennessee hit 15 of 15 from the line.
UK was nearly perfect, too, making 13 of 14 free throws, including 9 of 9 by Tyler Ulis, in the first half.
Ulis and Alex Poythress led Kentucky’s first half attack with 14 points each. Kevin Punter had 12 points for UT.
In the second half, the Vols, who improved their overall record to 11-11 (4-5 in SEC), slowly caught up and won the contest in a stunning fashion.
For the entire game, UT managed to outrebound Kentucky by a 37-36 margin and had 26 points coming off the bench as compared to UK's four from the benchwarmers.
Both teams were hot from the line. UK hit 18 of 23 free throws for 78.3 percent, while UT made 30 of 34 tries for 88.2 percent.
Tennessee coach was extremely pleased with the outcome and also praised Kentucky coach John Calipari.
"Really happy for our guys," said Barnes (pictured with Calipari). "I just thought our guys really deserve all the credit in the world, the way they hung in and hustled. They weren't playing very well early, but they stayed with it. They really did. There wasn't one person that played that game that didn't help us some way, somehow.
"Again, I said it and you'll hear me say it many times over, there's not a better guy in the business than John (Calipari). And, one of the hardest things as a coach when you win a game, is to have to go down and shake your friend's hand.
"But like he said, if you're going to lose, you want to lose to a friend that you really respect. I can't tell you how much respect I have for him and his program and what he did. For us to come back obviously was a terrific win for us.”
By the way, Calipari and Barnes are the two winningest active head coaches in the SEC (total wins). Barnes has 614 NCAA Division I wins, while Calipari has 609.
Jamal Murray and Ulis were Kentucky's top scorers with 21 and 20 points, respectively. In the rebounding department, Derek Willis and Isaiah Briscoe each grabbed eight caroms.
Leading Tennessee was senior Kevin Porter, who gunned in 27 points, including 10 of 11 free throws. Porter entered the game as the nation's ninth-leading scorer.
Kentucky, which dropped to 16-6 overall (6-3 SEC), will host Florida Saturday afternoon at Rupp Arena. The 4 p.m. contest will be televised by CBS.
Photos by UK Athletics