On Saturday, #7 Tennessee defeated #4 Kentucky by 19 points in a rematch that the Vols could not wait for in order to avenge a loss in Lexington two weeks earlier.
In the latest AP Poll, Kentucky fell out of the Top 5 to #6 overall. With the win, Tennessee moves back into the Top 5 with a #5 ranking.
Tennessee is tied with LSU for first place in the SEC with a 14-2 record. On Saturday, #13 LSU held onto first place after they went to Tuscaloosa and beat Bama at home. In the latest poll, LSU improved to a #10 ranking.
Rematch in Knoxville
Tennessee defeated Kentucky 71-52, to avenue a 17-point loss from two weeks earlier. At the time, #5 Kentucky picked off #1 Tennessee 86-69. The loss sent the Vols tumbling out of the top ranking.
After winning 20 straight games, Tennessee lost to Kentucky and then LSU two games later. They wanted to get back on track before the end of the season with a big win against Kentucky.
Jordan Bone led the Vols with a career-high 27 points. He drilled a perfect 5-for-5 from three-point range. Grant Williams added 24 points and 7 rebounds.
“The last game, they just manhandled us and they were the more physical team,” Bone said. “You could just tell the way the game went, they just wanted it more. We don’t ever want to go into a game or leave a game saying that about another team, they wanted it more than us. That’s something we challenged ourselves with.”
PJ Washington led the Wildcats in scoring with 13 points, but no one else on Kentucky posted double digits. Washington struggled all game and scored the majority of his points at the free throw line. The Vols defense held Kentucky to only 52 points, or 25 points below their season average.
“We got beat every which way but loose,” said Kentucky head coach John Calipari. “Our young kids played like freshmen, played like deer in headlights.”
The Race for #1
Three SEC teams are now in the Top 10, but two of them are vying for a #1 seed in March Madness. #4 Duke is a lock for the #1 seed in the South Region, which means that Kentucky and Tennessee were fighting for the #1 seed in the Midwest. The loser of the two would probably end up with the #2 seed in the South. If that were the case, they would have to defeat Duke in the Elite 8 if they wanted a trip to the Final Four.
While the SEC has three teams in the Top 10, the ACC has three in the top 5. Gonzaga holds down the #1 overall ranking, but #2 Virginia, #3 North Carolina, and #4 Duke. Virginia will most likely end up with the #1 seed in the East, which means that North Carolina will probably head to the Midwest as a #2 seed.
Regardless of where Kentucky and Tennessee end up, those regions will have a likely SEC/ACC battle in the Elite 8 with a combination of Duke, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky vying for spots in the Final Four.
On Deck for UK and TN
The regular season comes to a close this week. Kentucky visits Ole Miss (19-10) this week and hosts Florida (17-12) for the final game of the season. Tennessee hosts Mississippi State (21-8) this week and hits the road for a final game against Auburn (20-9).
The SEC Conference tournament begins March 13 in Nashville, Tennessee. The final game is slated for Sunday, March 17.