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Rewind: Cats blown off Rocky Top

TENNESSEE 88, KENTUCKY 58
Feb. 16, 2013
Thompson-Boling Arena; Knoxville, Tenn.

Even the cardboard cutout of Macauley Culkin couldn't bear to watch Kentucky's loss (Darrell Bird/TCP)

SUMMARY
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Charged with painting a blank canvas without star forward Nerlens Noel, Kentucky's first attempt at impressionism was streaked with bright orange.

Tennessee jumped all over the reeling Cats with a 28-5 first half run that left little doubt as to just how much Kentucky will miss Noel over the final month of the season. When the paint dried the Volunteers had ole' Smokey-ed the Cats XX-XX at Thompson-Boling Arena, delivering a punishing blow to UK's NCAA Tournament hopes.

The defeat is the most lopsided loss to a John Calipari coached team since he returned to the college game in 2000-01 at Memphis. The previous worst was 23 points, suffered twice while Calipari was with the Tigers and most recently Nov. 26, 2004. It's also the first time Kentucky has lost by 20 or more since Vanderbilt trounced the Cats 93-52 on Feb. 12, 2008.

UK coach John Calipari used the Noel injury to shake up the starting lineup, benching Ryan Harrow and Alex Poythress in favor of Jarrod Polson and Kyle Wiltjer. It made little difference, as Kentucky gave up five offensive rebounds in the first minute of the game and watched the offensively-challenged Vols pile up 50 first half points.

Things went from bad to worse when assistant coach John Robic was ejected by official Doug Shows during a media timeout with 11:17 remaining in the first half. Calipari and Robic were protesting what appeared to be blown jump ball call by Shows moments earlier that led to a Tennessee three-pointer. Willie Cauley-Stein was slapped with a technical foul by Shows in the second half after an altercation in the lane.

CALIPARI TALK
“We talked about it, but we've got a couple of guys that are basically not real coachable. You tell them over and over and over what you want them to do, what we have to do, and they do their own thing. That's where we are. When they realize if we don't do this all together we're going to have many more of these, then (it will) change.”

OPPOSING VIEW
“Defensively when you watch him on film we felt like if there were any breakdowns in the gaps we watched him play defensively and you are used to having a guy behind you so there is a breakdown on the perimeter and you have a guy who can block shots, you cannot all of the sudden switch him out after 20 plus games and you say, wait he is not back there anymore and you are down 15, down 20. That is a major piece not to have behind you." – Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin, on the difference for UK without Nerlens Noel

FROM THE LOCKER ROOM
“It's very disappointing on our part. We didn't come out of the gate with any fire or aggressiveness and they jumped on us early. It's a huge loss in Nerlens but that's no excuse. We have plenty capable guys and we have to bring it and bring higher intensity and play harder.” – UK sophomore forward Kyle Wiltjer

GAME BALL
Jarrod Polson wasn't Kentucky's leading scorer and did not have an assist but he was one of two players – Julius Mays being the other - coach John Calipari singled out after the game for showing any type of fight or determination in Kentucky's worst loss in five years. The junior guard earned the first start of his career, replacing Ryan Harrow in the lineup, and turned in a career-high 11 points as one of just three Cats to reach double figures in scoring. Polson also added four rebounds, second only to Kyle Wiltjer's six boards, and had just one of Kentucky's 15 turnovers in 22 minutes of action. It was by no means a brilliant performance but it did stand in stark contrast to most of the rest of the team's work.

TURNING POINT
The ongoing issues between the Kentucky coaching staff and official Doug Shows bubbled to the surface for the third time in five games the two parties have been paired this season. Shows ejected UK assistant John Robic during a television timeout with 11:17 remaining in the first half after appearing to get into a short, but animated, discussion with Robic and Calipari near the UK team huddle. Shows had incorrectly awarded a jump ball to Tennessee moments earlier, which resulted in a Skylar McBee three-pointer, setting off the UK coaching staff. After the free throws for the ejection the Volunteers led 26-12 and never looked back, while Shows later tagged UK forward Willie Cauley-Stein with a technical foul in the second half. Kentucky is now 1-4 in games Shows has called this season with the only win coming against Morehead State.

KEY NUMBER
58.0 – Tennessee shot 58 percent for the game, the highest percentage for any Kentucky opponent in John Calipari's tenure, narrowly edging the 57.7 percent Connecticut shot in the 2010 Maui Invitational championship game. It marked just the fourth time total the Cats have allowed 50 percent of better from the field, with two coming this season (Texas A&M shot 52.5 percent in Rupp Arena). The Cats are 1-3 in those games, the Sweet 16 victory over Indiana in last season's NCAA Tournament being the only victory.

FINAL THOUGHT
My goodness can a few days make such a drastic difference in the course of a season. When Kentucky went wheels up to Florida it was looking to take control of first place in the SEC, serve notice it had finally matured past its early struggles and announce itself as a major threat in the NCAA Tournament. Five days later it has two defeats, one the worst in Calipari's tenure by 13 points, is without it's best player and appears to have no clue of how to float the sinking ship. You knew there would be a season where Calipari's formula didn't work but no one could have seen this type of free fall coming.

NEXT
Kentucky (17-8, 8-4) returns home to try and pick up the pieces, hosting Vanderbilt at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 20 in Rupp Arena. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.

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