NASHVILLE - Tennessee suffered a Music City Meltdown on Saturday afternoon in Bridgestone Arena.
The Vols lost their offensive continuity and composure against No. 2-ranked Kentucky, suffering an inglorious end in the semifinals of the SEC tournament.
Kentucky handed UT the most lopsided loss of coach Bruce Pearl's five-year Knoxville era, scoring a 74-45 victory before a Big Blue-dominated crowd of 20,207.
The 15th-ranked Vols (25-8) now await tonight's NCAA tournament selection show. UT entered the SEC tournament projected as a No. 4 seed and isn't expected to fall lower than a No. 5 seed, if it slips at all.
The Vols had won five straight heading into Saturday's game and split the regular-season series with the Wildcats (31-2).
Tennessee never led in this one, and Scotty Hopson was the only UT player to score in double figures with 11 points.
Kentucky freshman post DeMarcus Cousins dominated the lane from the outset, posting game-highs with 19 points, 15 rebounds and three steals.
With Cousins controlling the paint and All-SEC guard John Wall (14 points) slicing to the rim, the Wildcats closed the first half on a 9-0 run to build a 32-19 halftime advantage.
"We had to exert a lot of energy against LSU and Ole Miss, and we needed to be fresher and more furious to compete with Kentucky,'' Pearl said. "Playing a third game in three days is a real factor when you're playing a physical team like Kentucky.''
The Vols rallied in the second half when J.P. Prince scored on a three-point play to spark a 9-1 run that drew UT to 44-39 with 9:24 left.
Kentucky's Patrick Patterson answered with a dunk, igniting the Wildcats' raucous crowd, and Eric Bledsoe (17 points) buried a 3-pointer the next trip down.
"When we hit that three,'' Cousins said, "the beatdown was on.''
The Vols made one of 12 shots the rest of the game as the action grew more physical by the minute, climaxing with the ejection of UT point guard Melvin Goins at the 3:33 mark.
Goins and Cousins were whistled for double technicals, and Goins was ejected, after officials ruled the diminutive guard was too physical fighting through a screen set by the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Cousins.
"It wasn't above and beyond the physicality of that game,'' said Goins, whose ejection was a result of the flagrant foul. "It wasn't intentional.''
Cousins, largely held in check in the teams' first two meetings, disagreed: "That wasn't accidental.''
Big men Wayne Chism of UT and Daniel Orton of Kentucky were whistled for double technicals earlier after exchanging words.
"They were letting them play jail ball out there,'' said UT post Brian Williams, who suffered a strained back when he took a shove from behind in the first half. "We lost our composure and tried to do the same thing as them, and we got whistled for technicals and flagrants.''
Both coaches said their teams could have handled the intensity of the game better.
"We got good kids . . . they react to things wrong,'' Wildcats coach John Calipari said. "We've had things happen and guys say stuff, and you just shake your head.''
Pearl said the game was chippy from the opening tip.
"There was too much jawing out there,'' he said. "Both teams lost their composure.''
And the Wildcats found their shooting touch from the perimeter, enabling them to turn the game into a runaway.
Kentucky connected on eight of 22 attempts beyond the 3-point arc against the Vols after making just one of 13 against Alabama on Friday.
The Wildcats also held a commanding 44-29 advantage in rebounds and forced 15 turnovers that led to 16 points.
"It was their second shots and ability to dominate us inside, and then obviously the guard play with Wall and Bledsoe both playing well,'' Pearl said. "Their ball screens against the zone were also more effective this time.
"But this team has accomplished a lot, and I've been very proud of them. We just have to regroup.''