LEXINGTON, Ky. — If a shot was worth three or for three, Kentucky made it.
That was too much for Tennessee.
The Volunteers certainly didn't play poorly in a place where they rarely win, but the 13th-ranked Wildcats were simply just a little bit better in a 74-66 victory on Saturday afternoon at Rupp Arena in the only regular-season meeting between the border rivals.
"The whole game was tough for us," Tennessee guard Jordan McRae said after scoring 17 points. "We did what we was supposed to do. We rebounded, and I think we guarded well. They just knocked down some shots."
While the Vols (11-6, 2-2 SEC) held big advantages in rebounding (39-24) and points in the paint (34-24), Kentucky, again loaded with five-star recruits-turned talented freshmen, excelled from behind the 3-point line and at the free-throw line.
The Wildcats were shooting 30.5 percent from 3-point range and 65.9 percent from the foul line this season, but they hit 7 of 16 3-pointers and made 23 of 24 free throws.
Kentucky (13-4, 3-1) made five treys in the first half, which allowed twin freshman guards Andrew and Aaron Harrison to get into the lane in the second half, and the Wildcats scored 18 points in the paint and made 16 free throws after halftime.
Freshman forward Julius Randle scored 16 of his 18 points in the first half, and Andrew Harrison, who hit all 10 of his free throws, poured in 16 of his career-high 26 in the second half.
"It was definitely a winnable game because we stuck to our game plan," Vols forward Jarnell Stokes said. "We said we were going to keep them out of the lane and make them take 3s, and they made 3s. That just confused us as far as sticking to our defensive game plan.
"Once they were able to hit 3s, it sort of put us in a bind as far as not being able to help as much."
Playing against a tall and talented front line of the 6-foot-9 Randle and 7-foot center Willie Cauley-Stein, Stokes was both active and productive. The 6-foot-8 junior scored the game's first six points and recorded his ninth double-double of the season by halftime. He finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds against a couple of future NBA players.
"He was aggressive, and he was hungry," Vols third-year coach Cuonzo Martin said. "Whenever he plays aggressive, he's a totally different basketball player. I thought Jarnell did a great job of attacking the glass, being aggressive, being assertive, imposing his will, rebounding the basketball and defending."
"He came and he dominated tonight," added fellow big man Jeronne Maymon. "The rest of the team's just got to bring it a little more."
It was perhaps Stokes' best performance as a Vol, but he scoffed at that notion and pointed to better games in Tennessee's two wins in the Bahamas in November and in the victory at LSU in the SEC opener.
"I don't anyone to hype this game because it was against Kentucky," he said.
"I was a top-10 player coming out of high school, too," Stokes added. "I'm not surprised by how I played or anything. ... I'm not surprised by how I played at all."
Tennessee, which is now 4-35 in Rupp Arena and last won there in 2006, led 18-9 with 12 minutes left before halftime, but the Wildcats made a charge just before the break. A 10-2 run in the half's final three minutes, capped by freshman James Young's triple, wiped out Tennessee's six-point lead.
"The end of the first half hurt us," said McRae, who was just 5-of-14 from the field and finished with four turnovers. "In the second half they started knocking down shots. It was tough for us."
After Maymon, who had 12 points and five rebounds, scored to cut Kentucky's lead to five, Armani Moore missed an open 3-pointer from the corner in front of Tennessee's bench. A few possessions later, Antonio Barton, who was scoreless and missed all four of his shots, clanked an open trey, and Aaron Harrison scored to push the Wildcats' lead to 10.
Tennessee was just 2-of-13 on 3-pointers.
"I like that shot [by Moore], because that's a shot he's spent a lot of time working on, even though that wasn't his game before," Martin said. "I didn't think we had bad looks. If anything, maybe the timing of the shots, because I felt like we had tremendous opportunities when we pounded the ball inside."
With Tennessee down just 64-58 following Darius Thompson's 3, McRae was stripped in transition and clanked the front end of a one-and-one free-throw opportunity, one of five free throws Tennessee missed in the game's final five minutes.
"They knocked down shots when they needed to," McRae said, "and I think that was the difference in the game."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 ...
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