UT e-Rupp-tion

Lofton scores career-high 31 points

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky didn’t want Chris Lofton coming out of high school.

So the Wildcats got a full dose of the Tennessee sophomore sharpshooter Tuesday night.

Lofton scored a career-high 31 points to lead the 11th-ranked Vols to a 75-67 victory that ended an eight-game Kentucky win streak in the series and gave UT its first win at Rupp Arena since Jan. 12, 1999, and only its fourth all-time.

"To do special things, you have to have special players do special things," said UT coach Bruce Pearl. "You saw one, another one, from Chris Lofton."

The Vols (17-3, 8-1 SEC) have won six consecutive games and continue to lead the SEC East.

Lofton scored 29 points in a win over Florida on Jan. 21 and he was just as hot against Kentucky.

"I got in my rhythm and my teammates kept feeding me the ball,’’ said Lofton, who wasn’t recruited by the Wildcats despite winning the state’s Mr. Basketball honors two years ago at Mason County High School. "I just tried to block everything out tonight.’’

It was a challenging task in the final minutes.

The Rupp Arena crowd of 24,184 erupted when Wildcats guard Ravi Moss hit a 3-pointer to put Kentucky up 63-62 with 5:54 remaining.

It was Kentucky’s first lead since the 9:32 mark of the first half when a Major Wingate bank shot put UT up 19-18.

The Wildcats (15-8, 5-4) trailed by as many as 10 points in the first half, thanks in large part to Lofton, who hit his first four 3-point attempts. Kentucky used a 7-1 spurt to close the first half down 39-36.

After Moss’ 3-pointer finally got Kentucky back in front, UT’s Andre Patterson answered with a dunk to make it 64-63, flexing his muscles toward the ESPN cameras and further riling the crowd.

"It was just some emotions finally coming out,’’ said Patterson, one of three Vols seniors who had never beaten Kentucky.

The Wildcats countered when Randolph Morris scored two of his team-high 20 points from the free-throw line, putting Kentucky up 65-64 with 3:31 left.

Again, back came the Vols; this time, for good.

Wingate muscled through the lane for a bucket inside that put UT on top 66-65 with 2:26 left and ignited a 9-0 run — the last seven points of which came from Lofton.

First, it was Lofton on a drive, a one-handed push shot that gently arched over defenders and into the basket at the 1:37 mark. Next, Lofton on a breakaway with 45.9 seconds left, converting a layup after taking a pass that Dane Bradshaw air-mailed from the end line to half-court.

Then, Lofton again, driving hard for a layup and drawing contact from Moss, setting himself up for a three-point play that gave UT a 73-65 lead with 21.4 seconds left and effectively turned the lights out in Lexington.

The Wildcats missed five consecutive 3-pointers during the Vols’ 9-0 run.

"We’ve just got to finish games,’’ Kentucky’s Joe Crawford said.

As for the efforts of Lofton and the Vols, Crawford just shook his head.

"(Lofton) hit some shots, but we were right there with him the whole game,’’ Crawford said. "It’s confidence. (Tennessee) is just more confident, and they feel like they should win. They don’t feel like the underdogs anymore.’’

Bradshaw indicated as much when told the Vols were 3-27 at Rupp Arena entering Tuesday’s game.

"Wow, I didn’t know that,’’ Bradshaw said. "But it’s 1-0 for Coach Pearl.’’

And, at the very least, Lofton evened a score with the Wildcats. But he wanted to do even more.

Lofton was calling for the ball when JaJuan Smith heaved it high into the air at the buzzer.

"I was going to do something I probably shouldn’t have done,’’ Lofton said with a sly smile. "I’m glad they didn’t throw me the ball.’’

Lofton artfully dodged numerous questions over whether he harbored a grudge against Kentucky for not recruiting him.

"I thought about it and I wondered why they didn’t,’’ Lofton said. "That was a long time ago, and I let that go.’’

Lofton said it felt good to get a win in his home state, but added that "this (Lexington) isn’t home; home is Maysville.’’

The only reaction Kentucky got out of Lofton came in the final minutes, when the Wildcats took a 65-64 lead.

"It gave me a boost of adrenaline hearing the Kentucky fans cheering,’’ he said. "I tried to shut them up.’’

© 2006 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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