- Tuesday, February 7 2006 -
Tennessee - 75 (Head Coach: Bruce Pearl) - [Ranked 11th by AP and 14th by ESPN/USA Today]
|Chris Lofton (*)||32||11||18||7||10||2||2||1||6||7||1||0||0||0||3||31|
Kentucky - 67 (Head Coach: Orlando Smith) - [Unranked]
Halftime Score: Tennessee 39, Kentucky 36
|Prior Game|||||Next Game|
|Florida 80 - 95|||||Vanderbilt 81 - 84|
Game Writeup - Written by Matt May; Courtesy of The Cats Pause, (All Rights Reserved)
Lofton lights up Rupp; Cats fall 75-67
Kentucky didn't want Chris Lofton coming out of high school, so the Kentucky native showed the Cats exactly what they missed out on, putting on a show in the gym he used to light up in the famed Kentucky Sweet 16 Tournament.
Lofton scored a career-high 31 points and tied a career mark with seven three-pointers to push Tennessee to a 75-67 victory over the Cats in front of a stunned Rupp Arena crowd. The loss dropped UK to 15-8 overall and 5-4 in the Southeastern Conference, all but eliminating the Cats from title contention.
"The difference between the great ones and the good ones are the kids that can make those plays," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. "I've always said, the thing about Chris Lofton is we all know he's a great shooter, but he's a little better athlete (than you think), a little better defender, a little better off the bounce.
"The best players rise to the occasion and he did that."
Lofton, the Mason County High School product, added insult by scoring the Volunteers' last five points on run outs after UK three-point misses. The points represented the end of an 11-2 spurt for Tennessee over the final 3:31, a span that saw the Vols turn a 65-64 deficit into the eight-point victory. It was once again another tight game where UK uncharacteristically was the team that made crucial mistakes and questionable decisions.
"It was another lost opportunity for us to make up ground (in the SEC)," UK coach Tubby Smith said. "Tennessee made shots and plays down the stretch and we didn't.
"We've been hot and cold all year. We've not been very consistent all year long."
The Cats showed that lack of discipline and consistency throughout the game on both offense and defense. UK blistered the nets for 51.7 percent shooting in the first half then trailed off to 39.4 percent in the second half. Despite having 44 points in the paint, the Cats completely abandoned the inside attack in the closing minutes, shooting three-pointers on seven of nine possessions before a Rajon Rondo drive with 17 seconds left. UK missed the last six of those triples and turned the ball over on another possession as Tennessee pulled away.
"We went away from what was working," Smith said. "We ran plays specifically to throw (the ball) inside. I guess guys found themselves wide open on the perimeter (and shot). Those shots weren't falling."
"They were sagging and double teaming (the post)," UK sophomore center Randolph Morris said. "They did a great job defending. We took a couple of questionable shots and the game got away."
Tennessee took control of the game midway through the first half with a 19-6 run that featured four three-pointers from Lofton, two of which were just cold-blooded in the eyes of Rondo and Brandon Stockton. UK rallied several times to pull close, but Lofton was always there to put a knife in the Cats' guts. During a 19-point second half Lofton shot faked Rondo into the air, got kicked in face and still converted for a three-point play, stuck a wide open three from the corner when Patrick Sparks left him to help a fellow UK defender, buried another open three and then gave the Vols a 68-65 lead when he deftly flipped in a floater from the lane.
"It was real big for Chris to hit those shots," Tennessee guard Chris Lofton said. "It just took him to hit one and we knew he would catch fire."
Lofton's performance had to be especially galling for Smith, who steadfastly refused to offer him a scholarship. Although Smith did bring in Rondo, Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley in that recruiting class, Lofton outscored that trio (well, duo since Ramel Bradley was benched for off court reasons) 31-23 on the night, leaving Smith to admit he made a mistake in not offering the sweet-shooting Lofton.
As much as this game was about Lofton's career performance, it also represented a continuation of one of the worst seasons Smith has had at UK. The loss was the fourth of the season at Rupp Arena Ð three in league play Ð tying this year for the second-most losses at home in one campaign for the Cats. It was also another example of the Cats falling flat on their face in a game they themselves labeled a 'must win'.
"We've been saying it and saying it, but this really is do or die," Morris, who finished with 20 points and seven rebounds, said. "When it comes down to it, it's all talk. We have to produce and show (we can win). At this level, it's not about talk."
When the dust had settled in Rupp, UK had talked the talk, but it was Lofton who walked the walk.
Bobby Perry defends against UT's Major Wingate
Randolph Morris shoots