KNOXVILLE — It may become known as the Big Blue Beatdown.
Tennessee certainly earned a catchy label with its performance Saturday afternoon.
Led by point guard Trae Golden's 24 points and eight assists, the Volunteers ran rival Kentucky out of Thompson-Boling Arena and snapped a six-game losing streak in the longtime rivalry with their biggest win ever against the Wildcats, an 88-58 thrashing.
"Y'all call it what you want to call it. It's not for me to decide," Jordan McRae said while flashing a wide smile after scoring 15 points in the rout.
"To win and win at this measure," Jarnell Stokes added, "it means a lot."
It was Kentucky's worst loss in John Calipari's four seasons as the Wildcats' coach. Tennessee's 50-26 halftime lead was its largest since 1999, and the Vols are 8-3 in their last 11 games against defending national champions. The Vols' biggest win in the series before Saturday's 216th all-time meeting between the border-state programs was a 28-point victory in 1968.
"I thought we were going to win, but you can never tell the way a game will turn," Golden said. "Going into the game I was confident. We had a good game plan.
"I was confident in our coaches, and I was confident we'd be able to get the victory."
In its first game without star freshman Nerlens Noel, the shot-blocking game-changer who suffered a season-ending knee injury against Florida on Tuesday, Kentucky looked lifeless and disjointed. Assistant coach John Robic bizarrely was ejected during a first-half timeout. The Wildcats (17-8, 8-4) unraveled in a chippy second half as three players fouled out.
"This was a hard game to begin with," Calipari said. "We're still trying to learn how we're going to play offensively and what we are going to do defensively. Today we came into an inspired team.
"They deserved to beat us by 50 points today. They played harder, they played rougher and they executed better. We just had passive guys who did not want to make plays."
Tennessee (14-10, 6-6) clicked on all cylinders.
In their dominant first half, the Vols shot 57 percent, made all four of their 3-point attempts and scored 20 points off Kentucky's 10 turnovers. Runs of 9-0 and 11-0 blew the game open as Tennessee fed off its frenzied crowd and Golden's play. The junior tallied 13 points and six assists before halftime.
Even with a big second-half lead, the Vols were the aggressors, with Josh Richardson cutting his lip on the floor while diving out of bounds for a rebound and 6-foot-3 Skylar McBee diving on the floor to knock a post-entry pass away from 6-10 Kentucky forward Kyle Wiltjer.
"I think in the last three games this is the Tennessee team that I'm accustomed to seeing, [with] guys that compete and play hard," Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. "I thought Trae Golden really led us from start to finish. I thought he did a great job of running the team and being Trae Golden -- attacking the rim and making plays.
"When that happens, everything else falls in line."
After struggling, losing his starting spot following the SEC opener and playing through shoulder and hamstring injuries, Golden appeared aggressive and confident in his third consecutive game of good play since returning from a two-game absence.
"Whatever it was he was going through, I had no clue," Martin said. "We were trying to figure out everything -- physically, mentally, anything you can think of. That wasn't the guy that finished last season for us.
"When you're having your ups and downs and your struggles as a team because the guy you count on for production, especially at the point guard position, is not at the level it needs to be, then everything falls apart."
As is his straightforward nature, Martin downplayed any notion of Saturday's win being the biggest of his two-year tenure in Knoxville, but the players compared this result to the win against Vanderbilt last season that clinched the second-place finish in the SEC in the regular-season finale.
"It falls right up there," McRae said. "Every time you look up at the scoreboard its 70-40 ... it just feels good. It's tough to not get relaxed in situations like that.
"I haven't beaten Kentucky ever, so this is my first time. This is a special one for me. It's a great win for us."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...