In the midst of Kentucky's 75-65 men's basketball victory against Tennessee on Tuesday night, Wildcats sophomore Kyle Wiltjer veered over to the team's bench.
Kentucky's fourth-leading scorer got coach John Calipari's attention and petitioned, "Coach, run four-down for me." The play is designed to get Wiltjer, UK's 6-foot-10 sixth man, an open shot.
Calipari ran it.
Wiltjer made it.
"There was no surprise," Calipari later said. "I'm happy, thank you. This is supposed to be their team."
Calipari returned to Wiltjer time and time again to the tune of a team-high 17-point effort.
Oh what Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin would give for such brazen offensive moxie.
For the second straight game, the Vols' leading scorer, Jordan McRae, was their only scorer in double digits.
In the final decisive minutes against Kentucky, the Wldcats' defensive agenda was clear: Attack McRae, make someone else score.
After a 3-pointer by Derek Reese gave UT a 54-53 lead with 7 minutes, 19 seconds remaining, the Vols missed 11 of their final
13 shots. They made 7 of 10 free throws, but five of the makes and six of the attempts belonged to McRae.
As Kentucky's lineup of NBA hopefuls was busy running plays for Wiljter, Tennessee was looking for someone, anyone, to step up aside McRae.
Didn't happen. A fourth straight loss dropped UT to 0-3 in the SEC, 8-7 overall.
McRae was diplomatic when asked about his unaccompanied production.
"I don't feel like I'm carrying the load," the junior said. "I'm just doing the same thing I always did — I'm just taking more shots and attacking more. It isn't just me."
Except it is.
In the last three games only one player other than McRae has reached double figures. Jarnell Stokes scored 15 against Ole Miss on Jan. 9.
That's not to say others aren't capable.
Point guard Trae Golden scored 25 in a win over then-undefeated Wichita State in December. He's since wandered into the woods, missing 46 of 59 shots.
Shooting guard Josh Richardson scored double figures in three straight games against Western Carolina (12), Xavier (12) and Memphis (20). He's scored 23 with eight turnovers in the three games since.
Stokes is supposed to be the anchor. Instead, he's cast UT adrift with wayward free-throw shooting, inconsistent play and persistent foul trouble. The sophomore scored 24 against Massachusetts in 32 minutes, 18 against Presbyterian in 25 minutes and 15 against Ole Miss in 32 minutes. He also scored six in 18 minutes against Wichita State and four in 15 minutes against Kentucky.
The others? Skylar McBee has made six shots in the last five games. Kenny Hall has scored 10 in the last three combined.
In the past two games, freshmen reserves Reese and Armani Moore have appeared as the most potent offensive weapons aside McRae.
The problem, of course, is that they have combined to play 178 career minutes.
Whoever it is, Martin needs someone to ride shotgun while McRae steers.
And when it comes to McRae himself, Martin still wants more.
"The next step for him (is) taking pride on the defensive side of the ball," the UT coach said after Tuesday's loss at Rupp Arena.
Off to their worst start in SEC play since 1997-98, the next step for the Vols is a Saturday date with Mississippi State (7-8, 2-1) at Thompson-Boling Arena (TV: WVLT, 4 p.m.). Having already notched league wins over South Carolina and Georgia, the Bulldogs lost to Alabama at home, 75-43, on Wednesday night.
After facing Mississippi State, Tennessee will travel to Oxford, Miss., for a rematch with Ole Miss (14-2, 3-0) next Thursday. The Rebels overmatched UT in a 92-74 win last week.
ESPN announced Wednesday that the Ole Miss game will be televised on ESPN2.
Though he dodged the question about being the lone bullet in the Vols' chamber, McRae didn't hesitate to say, "these next couple games are must-win."
"We are going to have to do whatever we have to do to try and get it straightened out," he added.
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/BFQuinn