Cuonzo Martin talks about a rout of Kentucky
A standing ovation greeted Cuonzo Martin back onto the Thompson-Boling Arena floor Saturday afternoon.
Head down, he offered an acknowledging fist pump.
Martin joins the Tennessee postgame radio show after every game. The crowd that stuck around after Saturday's out-of-nowhere, smack-you-in-the-face and kick-you-when-you're-down 88-58 beatdown of visiting Kentucky was far larger than normal.
They wanted answers.
A 30-point win over Kentucky? That Kentucky? Big Blue, and whatnot?
"Well," Martin said in the preceding press conference, "there you have it."
As of 1 p.m. Saturday, Kentucky's worst all-time men's basketball loss in 215 meetings with Tennessee was by 28 points. It came back in 1968.
As of 1 p.m. Saturday, coach John Calipari's worst loss as the curator of Kentucky basketball was by 17 points. That came back in 2010 against Connecticut.
As of 3:15 p.m. Saturday, the record books were rewritten.
"They deserved to beat us by 50 points today," Calipari said of his 25th-ranked Wildcats, who became only the fifth UK team to lose by 30 since 1950. "They played harder, they played rougher and they executed better."
That just about sums up a game that was never close. An announced sellout of 21,678 saw the Vols waltz to their third straight win and improve to 14-10 overall, 6-6 in the SEC.
They led by 24 at halftime and by as many as 39 before the final horn mercifully sounded.
Kentucky (17-8, 8-4) came in battered and left beaten. Playing without star freshman Nerlens Noel, who was lost for the season Tuesday to a torn ACL, the Wildcats were timid.
The Vols pounced.
An early 16-7 Tennessee lead swelled to 35-12, then to 43-18 and, finally, to 50-26 at halftime.
"They rode the car over us a couple of times — over and back, over and back," Calipari said.
Trae Golden was at the wheel. Shifting gears each time down floor, the UT point guard got his — 24 points — and gave some out — eight assists.
There were no potholes — zero turnovers.
"He did a great job running the team and being Trae Golden — attacking the rim, making plays," Martin said. "When that happens everything else falls in line."
The balanced scoring from UT in the opening half was like nothing seen in Knoxville all season. Skylar McBee canned two of his three 3-pointers. Golden penetrated the lane and pumped in 13. McRae played inside-out, good enough for 11. Jarnell Stokes scored five early points to start the assault. Kenny Hall came off the bench to add eight.
After canning UT's fourth 3-pointer of the half to boost a 48-22 lead, the referees corralled McRae, telling him to settle down.
"You can't quiet down in situations like this," he said afterward, laughing in hindsight following his 15-point outing. "Big game. We knew what the situation was. CBS on Saturday at 1 o'clock? If you weren't ready for this, you're not a basketball player."
The Wildcats have basketball players — some of whom are projected NBA draft picks — but they weren't ready. They shot 35.8 percent from the field, were outrebounded 39-21 and committed 15 turnovers leading to 24 UT points. Three UK players fouled out. One assistant, John Robic, was ejected for arguing with officials.
"Two wins on rivalry week, I don't think anyone would have expected that," Stokes said into a cell phone after the game. Tennessee's win garnered national attention, unlike Wednesday's win over Vanderbilt. A postgame interview was requested from Sirius XM College Sports Nation.
Stokes finished with nine points and nine rebounds, ending a streak of six straight double-doubles.
Hall, Stokes' front court mate, contributed 12 of Tennessee's 30 points off the bench. The strong showing came after Hall was benched at Vanderbilt. The senior forward made up for lost time. He brought the house down with a one-handed, and-one dunk with 14 minutes, 44 seconds remaining. It capped the Vols' 15-6 run that opened the second half.
"We just came out and had a lot of energy," Golden said. "I think I heard there were something around 22,000 people here today so we just wanted to make sure that we stayed aggressive, kept this win and got one for Tennessee."
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn