The last time Bruce Pearl's Tennessee Volunteers faced Kentucky, Jodie Meeks went off for 54 points in a 90-72 Kentucky rout, so he and his players were determined to stop Meeks when the SEC foes met at Rupp Arena on Saturday.
The Vols accomplished one goal - limiting Meeks to a pedestrian 14 points - but the rest of Kentucky's troops rose to the occasion for a dominating 77-58 win.
Tennessee put themselves into a big hole, unable to score for the first 8 minutes of the game, missing all seven shots and turning the ball over five times before finally getting on the board. By then, though, Kentucky led 15-2, and even though the Vols got to within 7 points by halftime, they just could not compete with the fired-up Wildcats, who are on a mission to take the SEC East division and finish impressively enough to snag a bid for the NCAA tournament.
Midway through the second half, the Wildcats opened up a 22-point lead, and kept the Vols at bay the rest of the way. Patrick Patterson put up a game-high 19 points on 9-12 shooting, many of them on dunks, and Darius Miller threw down 17, with a perfect 6-for-6 shooting performance, including 3 three-pointers.
The day began with 4 teams - Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina and Florida - all tied for the division lead at 7-4. By mid-afternoon, the Wildcats had earned at least a share of the top spot, as Florida and SC each played later in the day (more in subsequent posts).
The win puts Kentucky in a good spot at 19-8 and 8-4, with just four more regular season games remaining, while dropping the Vols to 16-10 and 7-5 and a likely end to their post-season hopes.
Three of those four games for Kentucky are against some of the best teams in the SEC, however. On Feb. 25, they travel to South Carolina, returning home on the 28th to host LSU and then Georgia on March 4, before finishing at Florida on the 7th.
Should the Wildcats reach the NCAAs, they will have trouble advancing very far as they are undersized inside and are often out of position on defense. They will need maximum production from Meeks the rest of the season, no matter how long it extends.