After settling the score somewhat Wednesday with the college basketball gods, No. 10 Tennessee will travel across the state line to face border rival Kentucky in Southeastern Conference action on Saturday in Lexington, Ky.
Following two consecutive buzzer-beating losses via 3-pointers — one a 35-foot heave by Missouri’s DeAndre Gholston — the Volunteers (20-6, 9-4 SEC) crafted perhaps their best performance by leading for nearly 36 minutes and beating No. 1 Alabama 68-59 at home.
It was Tennessee’s sixth all-time triumph over a No. 1 team and made the Crimson Tide the last Power 5 squad to lose a conference game. It was also the eighth loss this season by an AP top-ranked team — matching the record set in 1993-94.
Tennessee’s team defense disrupted Alabama’s high-scoring offense over the entire 40 minutes. It forced the visitors into 19 turnovers and scored 26 points off them. The Crimson Tide netted only two points off miscues and led just once, 12-11, early in the first half.
Minus big men Josiah-Jordan James (ankle) and Julian Phillips (hip flexor), 6-foot-11 Jonas Aidoo stepped up with 12 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks and was a sizable factor in Alabama’s 35.4 shooting percentage (17 of 48). The Volunteers’ physicality also produced 11 steals.
“It was a great effort, all the way around for 40 minutes,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “When you’ve been at it this long, you have to believe that what goes around comes around. … Our guys made (a great effort), especially defensively.
“Our guys stayed connected, even after the last two games. We played hard in the other two games (and) it didn’t go our way. Tonight, it did.”
Zakai Zeigler had 15 points and eight assists while Santiago Vescovi tallied 15 points and eight boards as Tennessee won for the sixth time in its past seven games against Top 10 teams.
Coming off a 71-68 win at Mississippi State on Wednesday, Kentucky (17-9, 8-5) can vault into a third-place tie with the Volunteers if it can manage to sweep the season series.
The Wildcats’ 63-56 win at then-No. 5 Tennessee on Jan. 14 marked a renaissance for coach John Calipari’s squad. It entered the game 1-3 in the conference and was riding a two-game losing streak that included an embarrassing 71-68 home loss against woeful South Carolina.
However, the win in Knoxville, Tenn., keyed a stretch of four straight wins and six out of seven that moved them to 7-3 in the SEC.
In Starkville, Miss., the Wildcats ran into the league’s hottest squad and snapped the Bulldogs’ five-game winning streak.
Oscar Tshiebwe (18 points and 11 rebounds) made a pair of late free throws as Kentucky won for the first time in three games.
“The biggest thing I’ve been talking about to them is ‘Refuse to Lose,'” Calipari said. “You may run out of time, but refuse to lose. Just keep fighting.”
The Wildcats hold a 159-77 upper hand in a series that dates back to 1910. Since the 2015-16 season, however, they are 8-10 against the Volunteers.
–Field Level Media