Cuonzo Martin talks about a rout of Kentucky
A Tennessee fan was only a few yards past an exit portal when he turned to take another peek at the Thompson-Boling Arena scoreboard Saturday afternoon.
Sure enough, it didn't look any different from three seconds earlier: Tennessee 88, Kentucky 58.
Fans eventually will forget the score. They will simply remember the occasion as the "Big Blue Massacre of 2013." They also will remember it as the day the defending national champions looked so helpless in UT's presence, Kentucky coach John Calipari might as well have screamed "no mas" with 7:22 left in the first half.
By then, the Vols led 35-12. It was already apparent the Wildcats had lost more than star center Nerlens Noel, who suffered a season-ending knee injury four days earlier. Their will was gone, too.
"We just had passive guys who did not want to make plays," Calipari surmised.
Conversely, the Vols (14-10 overall and 6-6 in the SEC) played with aggression and aplomb. They out-shot, out-rebounded, and even out-shoved their 25th-ranked opponents while posting their largest margin of victory in a series dominated for the most part by Kentucky.
Only the pregame was normal. A smattering of Kentucky fans chanted "Go Big Blue." And Tennessee fans delivered their biggest boo of the season when Calipari was introduced.
But once the game began, UT vs. UK turned topsy-turvy. A Tennessee team that is averaging 63.7 points per game had 50 by halftime. The Wildcats had 26.
Coupled with a 69-52 loss to Florida on Tuesday, Kentucky has been outscored by 47 points in its last two games while falling to 17-8 overall and
8-4 in the SEC. UT is headed in the other direction with three consecutive victories and improved self-esteem.
"I mean, of course, you think to win," said UT's Jordan McRae, who had a busy stat line of 15 points, six rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots. "We were all saying, 'if we could just blow them out,' and, you know, it happened."
It was as though the Vols were intent on making up for six consecutive losses to the Wildcats in one spectacular afternoon.
"This (UT) team hadn't beaten us in awhile," Calipari said. "Now, this was their chance to get that wounded animal.
"The way that we played, and the way that they played, even if we had Nerlens, we would have gotten beat — big."
When the lead climbed to 39, the Vols didn't lose their edge. Neither did the crowd, which was still roaring 21,678 strong long after the outcome was obvious. Only coach Cuonzo Martin's final substitutions offered relief for Kentucky.
"Even if they did score a couple of times in a row, then we'd get a couple of stops and score, too," said UT guard Skylar McBee, who was 3-for-3 on 3-pointers. "I think we did a good job of keeping our foot on the gas pedal."
One foot on the gas pedal, and one seemingly on the throat of an opponent that expressed little interest in fighting back — at least, not until the game was out of reach, as exemplified by an exchange of shoves between UT's Armani Moore and Kentucky's Archie Goodwin
"Don't do that now when you're down 30," Calipari said. "Why wouldn't you fight as the game is in the balance?"
Kentucky's lack of effort wasn't its only shortcoming. Following instructions wasn't a strength, either.
"We've got a couple of guys who aren't real coachable," Calipari said. "You tell them over and over what we have to do, and they do their own thing.
For example, Calipari repeatedly reminded his Wildcats not to allow UT guard Trae Golden to go right with the ball, and Golden repeatedly went right on his way to a game-high 24 points.
"I've done this for twenty-something years," Calipari said. "I've had this happen. The question is: 'Will they respond coming back?'
"And the only way you respond is you must change."
The Vols know all about change. They could see it on the scoreboard.