1. Kentucky continued where they left off yesterday. Kevin Knox and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored the Wildcats first 13 points. Wenyen Gabriel, who hit a school-record seven consecutive three’s without a miss in yesterday’s win vs Alabama, came out strong scoring seven points on 2 of 2 shooting from the floor and free throw line and made his only 3-point attempt of the half.
2. The importance of James Daniel has gone understated all season. The graduate transfer from Howard led the nation in scoring two years back and was last year before a season-ending injury ended his career at Howard. Daniel, the lone senior presence on the team, has been a constant off the bench, settling the Vols down offensively and knocking down timely three’s. Daniel’s presence was felt immediately, connecting on a trey to stem the tide of a fast Kentucky start.
3. Tennessee was having about as poor of a shooting half as they’ve had all season. The Vols missed 21 of their first 26 shots. Admiral Schofield especially was struggling, with four minutes remaining before the half, the junior forward had four points to go along with three turnovers. Then Schofield caught fire to bring the Vols back. Schofield hit three straight three-point baskets, followed by a hook in the lane and a pair of free throws, scoring the Vols final 13 points of the half. Schofield’s explosion brought Tennessee back within, five, 36-31, entering the half.
4. Outside of the poor finish, the only other concern for John Calipari and Kentucky in the first half was the foul trouble involving all four of their bigs. P.J. Washington and Gabriel both had a pair of fouls, while Nick Richards and Sacha Killeya-Jones had three fouls each.
5. Tennessee shot 28 percent in the first half and was remarkably only down five going to the break. A Grant Williams basket on the first possession of the second half brought them within three. A few possessions later, Schofield would connect on another 3-pointer to give the Vols a 41-38 lead, their first lead since Williams opening the game with a layup. In all, the Vols went on a 25-5 run to take back the lead.
6. Kentucky has a young team, so they were always susceptible to the massive the run the Volunteers went on to take the lead. Calipari clearly challenged his team, as the Wildcats responded with a 14-2 run over 3:34 to regain the lead and extend it to 52-43 with 12:39 to play.
7. Of course in this game of runs Tennessee responded back with a 9-0 run anchored by back-to-back three’s from Jordan Bone and Lamonte’ Turner. During that stretch, the Vols also received great minutes from center John Fulkerson, who came down with a pair of rebounds and used his length to alter a few Kentucky shots.
8. Sacha Killeya-Jones has had few moments where he made a major impact for Kentucky but today down the stretch he was maybe the Wildcats most important player not named Knox or Gilgeous-Alexander. Killeya-Jones had a putback slam with 3:36 left that put UK up 66-62. Killeya-Jones followed that up with several rebounds and a key block of Williams. The Kentucky big will need to continue to provide this energy moving forward to the tournament
9. The most impressive part of Kentucky winning in St. Louis has to be Jarred Vanderbilt sitting out the three-game run with an ankle injury. Vanderbilt has battled injuries all year long but when healthy has been a rebounding force. While the Cats struggled at times on the boards they were lifted offensively by Knox and Gilgeous-Alexander, who combined for 47 of the Wildcats 77 points. Those two will likely determine how far Kentucky can go in March.
10. Tennessee was chasing the Wildcats all afternoon, which is extremely hard to do when a team is playing for the third time in as many days. The Vols spent much of the final 7 minutes playing without Schofield, who had to be evaluated in the locker room for an injury. Despite that, the Volunteers were right there in range of stealing a game in which they trailed by a crooked margin in the first half. Tennessee has done more than enough to be in Nashville for the first and second rounds next week. If that is the case, the Vols will be playing in front of a home crowd that can lift them to the second weekend.
11. Kentucky has undoubtedly improved over the past three weeks. The Wildcats enter the NCAA Tournament having won 7 of their last 8 and should have an opportunity to make a run deep into March. One thing that should be noted is that this is the Wildcats first win over a top 3 team in the SEC. The Wildcats are now 1-5 vs the leagues top teams. That’s not to take away from what the Cats have accomplished here in St. Louis, it’s to put things into perspective before analyst say that this team is destined for the Final Four. Kentucky has the talent, is playing their best and most consistent basketball of the year and should frighten whoever’s bracket they appear in. That being said, let’s take a deep breath before we anoint them national title contenders.