KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (LEX 18) — The Kentucky Wildcats grabbed their first victory over a ranked opponent this season, thanks to their best offensive first half of the season.
Davion Mintz did his best Jodie Meeks impersonation, shooting 5-for-5 on three pointers. Mintz finished the game with 15 points after coming back down to earth in the second half. Isaiah Jackson hit all five of his shots, chipping in 13 points in the first half, including a reverse slam that was SportsCenter Top 10 worthy! UK shot 60.7 % from the field, 66.7 % from three, to take a 15-point lead into the half that they wouldn't surrender.
The Wildcats (8-13) have won their third straight game, tying their longest win streak of the season when they won their first three SEC games back in early January. The Cats' win also put them back to .500 in SEC play (7-7). Saturday's 15-point victory over Tennessee (15-6) matches Kentucky's largest margin of victory against an AP Poll ranked opponent on the road in the John Calipari era (15 points) as well as snapping a five-game losing streak to ranked opponents. The Wildcats also made a bit of history Saturday as it is the first time EVER that Kentucky has defeated Tennessee in Knoxville by at least 15 points in both football and men's basketball in the same academic year.
After Keon Johnson made a three-pointer to put Tennessee up 10-8 early in the first half, Kentucky went on a 15-0 run. Mintz hit two threes, Keion Brooks Jr. made another, while Jackson and Jacob Toppin finished inside the arc with layups and dunks. Kentucky led 45-30 at halftime and eventually got the lead to 60-40 midway through the second half.
The second half was so bad for UK, BBN only remembers what happened in the first 20 minutes of the game. And they'd like to keep it that way.
As we've seen many times throughout this season, Kentucky cooled off after having a hot-shooting first half. UK shot a horrid 6 of 29 (21%) from the field after the break. What kept them from letting another big lead slip away? Tennessee wasn't that much better. The Volunteers made just 7 of their 26 shot attempts (27%). That's a credit to UK's intense defense, holding UT to just 32 percent from the floor. The Vols' freshman duo Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer combined for 50 points in their win at Rupp on February 6th. On Saturday, they were held to 19 points and six turnovers combined.
While UK went cold from the field in the second half, they were hot from the foul line. Kentucky hit 12 of 15 foul shots in the second half, 17 of 20 for the game. It's the second straight game where free throws have saved the Wildcats. In their last two games (going back to Vanderbilt), UK have made 41 out of 45 free throw attempts (91%).
Isaiah Jackson led the way with 16 points, seven rebounds and two blocks. Keion Brooks Jr. finished with a double-double, 10 points and 14 rebounds, while Olivier Sarr tacked on 10 points and seven rebounds on his 22nd birthday Saturday.
Kentucky beat Tennessee for only the second time in the past six meetings and it is the second straight season in which both teams have traded victories on each other’s home court.