By LARRY VAUGHT
LEXINGTON — Derek Willis exploded for 25 points while Jamal Murray had 28 as Kentucky rode their play to an 80-70 win over Tennessee here Thursday night. That moved UK into sole possession of first place in the Southeastern Conference race for the first time this season.
That more than offset a 3-for-15 shooting night by Tyler Ulis, who still had 11 points and nine assists, for the Cats.
“You know coming in that Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray are going to get their points. What you hope is that you do not let a guy like Willis break out like he does. You just can’t let a third or fourth guy get going and that’s what happened,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said.
Kentucky started the game 4-for-14 from the field but still grabbed a 13-9 lead after a 7-0 run and never let the Vols lead again.
Willis was 8 of 12 from the field, including 7 of 11, from 3-point range in 25 minutes. He also had five rebounds despite appearing to hurt his back late in the first half.
Murray was 8 of 12 from the field overall, 3 of 6 from 3-point range and 9 of 10 at the foul line. He also had nine rebounds.
“They shot it well. It was my fault that we probably should have switched more early,” Barnes said. “The fact is they played well. Take away the Kansas game (an overtime loss) which they had a great chance to win and we played our best game (to overcome a 21-point deficit and beat UK).
“They have been playing terrific. It is really impressive. John (Calipari) has his team really understand their roles. Just the chemistry is great. John has them truly understand what they have to do to be the best team they can be.”
Isaiah Briscoe was just 2 of 10 from the field but grabbed 10 rebounds to go with his solid defense in 35 minutes of play.
The biggest negative for the Cats, who are already without Alex Poythress due to a knee injury, was that center Marcus Lee missed the second half with a back injury.