Tennessee basketball: Three takeaways from Vols 77-64 loss to Kentucky

After winning at the Alabama Crimson Tide, Tennessee basketball fell at home to the Kentucky Wildcats. Here’s what we learned about the Volunteers.

The winning streak stopped at one game. In their third straight outing without Josiah-Jordan James, Tennessee basketball fell at home to the No. 15 ranked Kentucky Wildcats 77-64 in a game that was much closer through the middle of the second half.

Kentucky never trailed and went into halftime up 37-30. They then built a 10-point lead in the second half, but the Vols cut it to four in the final 10 minutes and were only down 66-61 with just over two minutes to go. But they couldn’t complete the comeback, as UK pulled away in the end.

With the win, John Calipari’s team improves to 18-5 and 8-2 in the SEC, while Rocky Top falls to 13-10 and 5-5 in league play. Up next for UT is a Tuesday night matchup with the Arkansas Razorbacks. Here are three takeaways from Tennessee basketball’s Saturday loss.

1. Defense was aggressive but inconsistent.

There were times in which the Vols were great on defense. Other times, however, they let Kentucky get red-hot. In the last 10 minutes of the first half, the Wildcats shot the ball well and scored in transition. Then they consistently drew fouls, which is why John Fulkerson, Yves Pons and Jalen Johnson all finished with four and UK hit 22-of-25 free throws.

When the defense wasn’t fouling or getting beat in transition, however, it was elite. The Vols forced 14 turnovers, and they had an incredible eight blocks. That offset the Wildcats hitting five-of-10 three-point attempts for a while. Defense created a lot of opportunities.

2. Offense was horrible in transition but solid in half-court.

We just noted that the defense created a lot of opportunities through forced turnovers and blocked shots. Well, the offense didn’t cash in. Too often, when they had numbers, they would either turn it over or miss a layup. This is where Josiah-Jordan James, even when he isn’t shooting well, would have been helpful. He would make sure to cash in on those things.

Now, ball movement was great in half-court play, and Tennessee basketball found lots of ways to score inside. John Fulkerson was the star with 16 points. He drew fouls all day, hitting 10-of-12 free throws, and four of his seven rebounds were offensive rebounds. Jordan Bowden also had 16, and he hit five-of-six free throws while being aggressive, driving and scoring from the midrange.

3. Outside shooting is still struggling except for Santiago Vescovi.

Part of Jordan Bowden scoring so well inside the paint was due to him still struggling from the outside. He only hit one of four three-point attempts despite numerous open looks, and he wasn’t the only one who struggled. In fact, UT was three-of-14 from the three-point line outside of one key player.

That player was Santiago Vescovi. The young point guard still struggles in his role as a point guard, but he led the team in scoring with 18 points. Why? Well, he hit four-of-11 three-point attempts. He wasn’t great, but he was aggressive and solid and got a lot of good looks. Vescovi deserves a lot of credit for that, but if other players just met his ratio, this game would have been closer.