Wall, No. 3 Kentucky beat No. 12 Tennessee, 73-62

BY foxsports • February 14, 2010

By Jeffrey MacMurray

Feb. 14, 2010

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- After missing two 3-point
attempts in the first half, Kentucky freshman Eric Bledsoe told coach
John Calipari he had lost confidence in his shot.

Calipari's message, to Bledsoe's surprise: Keep shooting, anyway.

Bledsoe's
second half resurgence, along with yet another stellar performance by
fellow freshman guard John Wall, helped No. 3 Kentucky fight off No. 12
Tennessee for a 73-62 victory Saturday night.

Down 52-50 midway
through the second half after a three-point play by J.P. Prince,
Kentucky (24-1, 9-1) scored the next 10 points -- six of them by Wall
-- to give Calipari his first win over Bruce Pearl in a Southeastern
Conference matchup. The two met annually when Calipari coached at
Memphis.

Wall was the game's leading scorer with 24, one off his
career high set earlier this season against UConn. However, Wall
acknowledged the true star of the game was Bledsoe, who got all 16 of
his points in the second half and clinched the victory with three
clutch shots in a row: a fastbreak layup followed by two 3-pointers.

Bledsoe credits a halftime chat with Calipari, who told him to keep shooting even if he misses.

"He was like, 'If you get it, shoot it,'" Bledsoe said. "Everybody else will crash the boards."

In the second half, though, they didn't have to. Kentucky's backcourt led a 20-4 run that buried the Vols.

"Eric
showed so much courage in what he did and how he played," Calipari
said. "...I tell him, 'You don't have to shoot a 3. You have to be
prepared to shoot a 3.'"

Bobby Maze led the Vols (18-6, 6-4) with 15 points. Melvin Goins had a career-high 14.

Although
the Wildcats pulled away at the end, the two teams battled for the lead
most of the night. Kentucky kept the Vols in it partly due to poor free
throw shooting, particularly by DeMarcus Cousins, who connected on just
one of eight attempts.

Cousins, who was going for an eighth
consecutive double-double, managed 12 rebounds but scored only five
points. The Kentucky record remains 10 straight, set by Jim Andrews in
1973.

Much of the focus going into the game was on the other big
man, Tennessee center Wayne Chism, whose right ankle was in a boot at
practice this week because of an injury he sustained in the Vols' loss
to Vanderbilt.

Chism didn't start but made an immediate impact
when he entered less than four minutes in. He nailed a 3-pointer on his
first touch, then added a reverse layup to ignite 12-1 Tennessee run.

While
the Vols got their big man back, the Wildcats briefly lost theirs
during the Tennessee scoring stretch. Cousins, who had barreled into
the media table during a play underneath the basket, was sidelined for
2 minutes with an apparent injury to his left leg.

Cousins was
healthy enough a few minutes later to turn in one of the highlight
plays of the game. After DeAndre Liggins missed a long jumper, Prince
seemed to have both hands on the ball for an easy rebound. But Cousins
robbed him in mid air, dunking it back into the hoop to give the
Wildcats their biggest early lead at 20-14.

Although Chism's
ankle held up fine, he was sidelined with a lower back bruise late in
the first half after committing a hard foul. He was back on the court
for the start of the second half but got only two of his 12 points
after intermission.

Two free throws by Liggins put Kentucky up 30-29 at halftime.

Pearl
said Kentucky won because it deciphered the Vols' zone defense.
Bledsoe's performance made the Wildcats' practically unguardable
considering Tennessee already had all it could handle keeping up with
Wall, one of the nation's most skilled players.

"John Wall is
great," Pearl said. "He plays effortlessly. He's got a high basketball
IQ. Wall was able to slice and dice us and did what he wanted to do."

Kentucky
turned the ball over 15 times, but Calipari said earlier this week that
he could live with a number like that if the team played aggressive
defense. It did that, holding Tennessee under 40 percent from the field.

Pearl's
Tennessee teams have finished above Kentucky in the SEC standings four
straight years -- the only program in conference history to do that.
However, Kentucky's win keeps them in sole possession of first in the
SEC East, one game ahead of Vanderbilt.

Even in a lackluster
season for the Wildcats last year that resulted in an NIT berth, the
games against Tennessee provided highlights. UK won both convincingly,
including in Knoxville, where former Wildcat Jodie Meeks set a
single-game team record with 54 points. Meeks attended Saturday's game
and was introduced to loud cheers from the capacity crowd.


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