KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Trae Golden had 24 points and eight assists Saturday as Tennessee rolled to an 88-58 victory over No. 25 Kentucky, giving the Volunteers their most lopsided win in the 216-game history of this series.
Kentucky (17-8, 8-4 Southeastern Conference) was playing its first game without star center Nerlens Noel, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee Tuesday during a loss to No. 7 Florida. The 6-foot-10 freshman was leading the nation in blocks (4.4), was tied for the SEC lead in rebounds (9.9) and ranked fourth in the conference in steals (2.1).
The Wildcats looked like a completely different team without him.
A Tennessee offense that has struggled for much of the season often scored at will against a Kentucky team that entered the day ranked second in the SEC in field-goal percentage defense (.382). Tennessee shot 58 percent from the field and grabbed a 50-26 halftime lead before breezing through the second half.
Tennessee entered the day ranked 13th out of 14 SEC teams in 3-point percentage (.286), but the Vols made all five of their 3s Saturday.
Jordan McRae scored 15 points and Kenny Hall had 12 points as Tennessee (14-10, 6-6) won its third straight game overall and snapped its six-game losing streak in this series. Jarnell Stokes had nine points and nine rebounds, ending his string of six consecutive double-doubles.
Kyle Wiltjer scored 18 points, Julius Mays had 12 and Jarrod Polson added a career-high 11 for Kentucky. Wiltjer and Polson replaced Alex Poythress and Ryan Harrow in Kentucky’s starting lineup while 7-foot freshman Willie Cauley-Stein took Noel’s place. Cauley-Stein, Poythress and Harrow all fouled out.
Kentucky’s biggest problem Saturday without Noel was expected to be trying to slow down Stokes, who entered the day with six straight double-doubles. Stokes battled foul trouble for much of the day and didn’t make as much of an impact as usual.
Instead, Stokes’ teammates did most of the damage in front of a sellout crowd of 21,678 that included Milwaukee Bucks forward and former Vols star Tobias Harris as well as ex-Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer.
Golden, who had been slumping for much of the year, continued his late-season surge and was just one point off his career high in scoring. Hall, who hadn’t even played Thursday in a 58-46 victory at Vanderbilt, also reached double figures. Skylar McBee had been shooting just 31.5 percent from 3-point range this season, but he made all three of his 3s Saturday.
Golden scored four points during a 9-0 run that broke a 7-7 tie and put the Vols ahead for good. After Kentucky’s Julius Mays ended that run with a 3-pointer, Golden scored seven points during a 19-2 spurt that gave the Vols a 35-12 advantage.
Neither team hid its emotions over the stunning results. Kentucky coach John Calipari didn’t hesitate to show his frustration throughout the first half, particularly after assistant coach John Robic was ejected from the game with 11:17 left before halftime.
After Kentucky called a timeout while trailing 33-12 with 9:51 remaining in the half, McBee pumped his fist at midcourt and all his teammates openly celebrated on the floor as well. After receiving a hard foul from Tennessee’s Armani Moore that appeared to include a push with 2:28 left in the game, Kentucky’s Archie Goodwin quickly got up off the floor and shoved Moore in the back.
While Tennessee seemingly could do nothing wrong, Kentucky did little right. The Wildcats had more turnovers (10) than baskets (nine) in the first half.
Tennessee continued pouring it on after halftime. The Vols led by 34 points while Kentucky encountered foul trouble. Poythress fouled out with 9:43 left in the game. Cauley-Stein picked up his fifth foul 22 seconds later. Harrow fouled out with 4:51 remaining and left the game without any points, assists or rebounds.