Kentucky All-American Kenny Walker found the Wildcats playing a game against Tennessee fitting on the day former UK coach Joe B. Hall died at age 93.
“I’m sure there is no team in the SEC he wanted to beat more than Tennessee,” Walker said.
Kentucky did more than beat Tennessee on Saturday. A startling shooting display propelled UK to a 107-79 victory over the Vols at Rupp Arena.
It was Kentucky’s largest margin of victory in this border state rivalry since a 74-45 victory in 2010.
Kentucky made 69.1 percent of its shots. That was the best shooting accuracy of John Calipari’s 13 seasons as coach. The previous best was 67.7 percent against LIU Brooklyn on Nov. 23, 2012.
TyTy Washington led the way by scoring a career-high 28 points.
Kentucky reached 100 points when Oscar Tshiebwe made a free throw with 2:31 left to make the lead 100-75. It was the first time UK reached triple digits against Tennessee since a 103-95 victory in 2001.
The 105 points were the most a UK team has ever scored against Tennessee, eclipsing 104 in 1955.
Perhaps lost in the rousing victory was Sahvir Wheeler’s return after missing the last two games because of a neck injury. He scored 21 points and got credit for eight assists.
In defeating No. 22 Tennessee, Kentucky got its first victory against a ranked team after earlier losses to Duke and LSU. UK improved 14-3 overall and 4-1 in the Southeastern Conference.
If Auburn were to lose at Mississippi on Saturday night, UK would be tied for first place.
Kentucky made 22 of 28 shots in the first half in taking a 52-38 lead at intermission.
This came against a Tennessee defense that limited previous opponents to an average of 60.7 points and 39.7-percent shooting. UK surpassed 60.7 points when Kellan Grady made a three-pointer with 17:26 left in the second half.
Washington led UK’s shooting gallery in the first by making six of seven shots and scoring 14 points.
Kentucky came out hot, making its first five shots.
With 7:27 left in the first half, eight Kentucky players had scored.
Momentarily disgruntlement erupted down the stretch of the first half. Both Wheeler and Tshiebwe picked up their second fouls with 5:25 and 3:00 left in the half. In both instances, fans booed in apparent belief that Tennessee defenders flopped. Calipari’s body language along the sideline suggested he agreed as he thrust out his stomach and leaned backward.
Yet Kentucky outscored Tennessee 22-8 in the final eight minutes to set the halftime score.
As the second half began, Kentucky duplicated its hot shooting to start the game. The Cats made five of their first six shots to open up a 67-45 lead and prompt a Tennessee timeout with 16:24 left.
During that spree, Washington made a pair of shots. His three-pointer seconds before the timeout gave him 21 points, thus eclipsing his previous season high of 20 he scored three times.
Wheeler, who had made only one of 18 three-point shots in the last 12 games he played, got in on the hot shooting. He hit a three-pointer from near the left corner with 14:01 left to expand the lead to 74-50.
To check all the celebratory boxes, fans got a chance to get free chicken when Tennessee’s star freshman, Kennedy Chandler, missed two free throws with 12:19 left.
Texas A&M at No. 18 Kentucky
When: 8:30 p.m. Wednesday
TV: SEC Network