By LARRY VAUGHT
KNOXVILLE — For once it looked like a Kentucky road game was not going to be a Super Bowl for an opponent.
Kentucky came off its overtime loss at Kansas Saturday by roaring out to a 34-13 lead here Tuesday night over Tennessee.
But just when it looked like UK really had turned the corner as coach John Calipari had been hoping, the Cats collapsed. I mean really collapsed.
Kentucky quit rebounding. Kentucky quit defending. Kentucky quit winning lose balls. Kentucky started fouling. So for the first time in UK basketball history, Kentucky blew a 21-point lead and lost 84-77 to a team that had recently blown leads of 18 and 14 points in first halves to lose games. But this time it was the Vols doing the spoiling.
The previous biggest collapse for UK came in a loss at Mississippi State in 2002 when the Cats blew a 20-point lead.
Kentucky fouled way too much and the Vols went 30 of 34 at the foul line. Isaiah Briscoe and Alex Poythress both got their fourth fouls early in the second half and from that point on the Vols grabbed control of the game
Why did Kentucky foul so much?
“I can’t ….,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said.
So what happened to that 21-point lead?
“We were up 21. Possessions don’t matter right now with certain guys on the team. All of a sudden it is a six-point game at halftime and then we were in a dogfight,” Calipari said. “Tennessee was down 21 but they were not stopping.”
Kentucky did. It had taken the crowd out of the game and then let the fans get back involved. Fans got louder in the second half. They took pictures of the final score. They called Calipari a “choker who has had all that talent but just one national championship.”
But the Cats let that happen just as they had in perplexing losses to Ohio State and Auburn.
“It was more than just one guy,” Calipari said before rattling off a list of plays that were not winning plays. “They beat us 30 in (the last) 25 minutes and it could have been 50. We had them down 21 and they came back and beat our brains in.
“I was worried coming off the Kansas game but the way we started I thought we would be fine. We had them ready and they just backed off. Stuff gets rough and we back up. We’ve got to do some soul searching. We are what we are right now.”
He says his team just “didn’t have the right” to win on the road. He said the players have yet to surrender to making winning plays for an entire game.
“They are like, ‘My stuff still works.” Calipari said.
Maybe one day it will, but it sure didn’t against Tennessee.