College Hoops Tuesday Recap: Wildcats Outwork Tennessee

February 9th, 2011
A lot of the talk leading into Tuesday's matchup between Kentucky and Tennessee at Rupp Arena surrounded the return of Bruce Pearl to the Tennessee sidelines after an eight-game SEC suspension. The Vols won five of eight with associate head coach Tony Jones in charge but there's something to be said in regards to the comfort level a team has when their head coach is on the bench. But the return to normalcy means nothing if you get outworked and that's exactly what happened to the Vols, ultimately falling 73-61 to the 18th-ranked Wildcats. DeAndre Liggins scored a career-high 19 points but it was his defense on Scotty Hopson that had the bigger impact. Hopson attempted just eight shots, making three and finishing with 11 points. Liggins may not get the national praise that some of the youngsters receive but his impact should never be overlooked.

"I told [DeAndre] and I told the team, We got to figure out a way to get him eight to ten shots a game," remarked head coach John Calipari. "He ended up getting six shots, but he also got fouled on a bunch. You know what I'm saying? He deserves it the way he defends." (quote courtesy of Kentucky Athletics)

Josh Harrellson also got the job done in a variety of ways, contributing to Kentucky's 38-28 rebounding edge with six rebounds in addition to 16 points. Terrence Jones turned the ball over eight times but calmed down following an anxious start, finishing with 11 points and a team-high 10 rebounds, and Brandon Knight scored 12 along with three assists. Of Kentucky's 16 turnovers 11 came in the first half, three of which helped the Volunteers cut a 19-point deficit down to seven by halftime. Tennessee would score the first two points of the second half but Kentucky answered with a 13-0 run to push the lead out to eighteen at 48-30. UK grabbed four of their 15 offensive rebounds during the run, punishing the Volunteers inside while also limiting freshman forward Tobias Harris.

Harris didn't shoot well from the field (3-for-9) and turned the ball over five times while grabbing just two rebounds. John Fields also grabbed just two boards, and despite Brian Williams snagging nine off the bench Kentucky took good care of the glass for much of the evening. Kentucky's ability to work inside also paid off at the foul line, where they made 22 of 27 to just 8-for-12 for the visitors. The ultimate key for Kentucky in regards to getting back into the SEC East race will be whether or not they can take a performance like this one on the road. There's no mistaking that the physical talent is there; improvement on the road for Kentucky will require growth in terms of their mental "talent".

Other Notable Happenings

1. Xavier may have officially punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
Xavier's trip south to take on Georgia in some regards may have been just as important as their game on Sunday against Duquesne will be, because a win would do wonders for an already solid resume. And despite a scoreless first half from Tu Holloway the Musketeers got the job done, winning 65-57 with four players reaching double figures. Holloway finished with 18 to go along with five rebounds and five assists, Mark Lyons added 14 and both frontcourt starters (Kenny Frease-10 and Jamel McLean-12) reached double digits as well. Trey Thompkins led four Bulldogs in double figures with 14 but Georgia shot 2-for-13 from three and turned the ball over 11 times to Xavier's seven, bogging down offensively late in the game. But barring an absolute meltdown the Musketeers should be good to go in terms of the Big Dance, allowing for two (Temple) and maybe even three if Duquesne (who doesn't have the strongest profile right now) can continue to play good basketball within the Atlantic 10.

2. Meanwhile, the Missouri Valley most likely gets just one bid again.
Wichita State was a long shot to earn an at-large bid before Tuesday night and that would be a generous assessment given their many missed opportunities early in the season when it came to picking up valuable non-conference victories. But what little chance there was likely dropped off the table thanks to their loss to Southern Illinois at home. Carlton Fay scored 21 to lead the Salukis, but Chris Lowery's team is at its best when allowed to turn games into half-court slugfests. That's exactly what happened to Wichita State, who scored just 53 points and shot 35.8% from the field in addition to turning the ball over 14 times (to just six assists). Add in Northern Iowa losing at Evansville and Missouri State has a chance to move into a tie for first while remaining alone in second should they lose to Bradley. But after years of seemingly being a lock to send multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament, it's looking more likely that the Valley once again sends just one team to the Big Dance.

3. Kansas State could be without Curtis Kelly for the rest of the season.
As reported by Kellis Robinett of the Wichita Eagle, the Wildcats could be on the verge of losing senior forward Curtis Kelly for the remainder of the season due to a "violation of a condition in the student-athlete handbook". What that violation may be is unknown at this time and Kelly is appealing the violation at this time, but looking further into the article his career as a Wildcat could end shortly. What does this do the Kansas State? It may be the straw that breaks the camel's back, as it would leave Frank Martin with a frontcourt consisting of Jamar Samuels, Jordan Henriquez-Roberts and...not much else. Already having lost Freddy Asprilla and Wally Judge, a season that many thought before the season began could end in Houston may not even be good enough to get to Dayton (sight of the first round) at this rate.

Top Three Games

1. Princeton 62, Penn 59 (OT) Four made free throws in the final minute of OT (one coming thanks to a technical foul assessed to the Quakers for calling a timeout they didn't have) made the difference as the Tigers moved to 5-0 in Ivy League play, remaining in sole possession of first place. Four players scored 11 points apiece to lead Princeton while Tyler Bernardini led Penn with 19.

2. Jacksonville 71, North Florida 69 Russell Powell's only field goal, a layup with seven seconds remaining, proved to be the difference as the Dolphins beat the Ospreys. Ayron Hardy led Jacksonville with 15 points while Andres Diaz scored a game-high 20.

3. Clemson 77, Boston College 69 Clemson was able to survive a late 12-0 Boston College run to move to 6-4 in ACC play. Jerai Grant led four Tigers in double figures with 17 while Reggie Jackson (27) and Joe Trapani (22) led the way for the Eagles.

Three Notable Performances

1. G Byron Mulkey (Buffalo) 29 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals in the Bulls' 72-43 beating of Central Michigan.

2. G E'Twaun Moore (Purdue) 25 points and eight rebounds in the Boilermakers' 67-53 win over rival Indiana.

3. G Reggie Jackson (Boston College) 27 points, seven rebounds and four assists in the Eagles' 77-69 loss at Clemson.