KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP)—Senior forward Chuck Hayes has played in every game and never even missed a practice because of injury since he’s been at Kentucky.
His sudden disappearance at Tennessee on Tuesday night was shocking but didn’t seem to hurt the seventh-ranked Wildcats.
Hayes, one of two returning starters this season for Kentucky, broke his nose midway through the first half while the Wildcats were on a run that put them ahead for good en route to an 84-62 victory.
Using various lineups full of freshmen and sophomores, the Wildcats (15-2, 6-0 Southeastern Conference) made up for Hayes’ loss with aggressive rebounding on both ends to remain the only undefeated team in league play.
“We said you guys need to make up for the loss of Chuck. They’ve never seen Chuck hurt before. I’ll be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Chuck hurt,” Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. “It showed me what our kids are all about. They really care about one another. They certainly care about Chuck.”
Patrick Sparks scored 19 points and Kelenna Azubuike added 17 for the Wildcats, who outrebounded Tennessee 41-29 and had 21 offensive rebounds.
“All around, we kept our confidence,” Azubuike said about losing Hayes.
Sophomores Bobby Perry and Sheray Thomas each had seven rebounds.
“Each player that came in did something positive for us throughout the night, and that was the big key to the game,” Smith said. “I liked our poise. We’re starting to mature.”
The Volunteers (10-9, 3-3) went ahead twice in the first half, when the Wildcats lost their leader, top rebounder and second-leading scorer.
Kentucky officials said Hayes was taken to the hospital for X-rays, and they would know more about his status on Wednesday.
But his departure didn’t stop the Wildcats from putting together a decisive 19-5 run before halftime.
After Chris Lofton hit a 3 to put the Vols up 21-20 with 9:21 remaining before halftime, Kentucky hit three straight 3-pointers to start the run. When Azubuike dunked 7 minutes later, the Wildcats went ahead 39-26.
Tennessee missed starting center Brandon Crump, who sprained his left ankle Saturday in an 85-62 loss at Louisville. All he could do was cheer on his teammates from the bench.
But most of the cheering came from the large and loud contingent of Kentucky faithful in the arena.
“Tennessee without Brandon Crump is a very different team. He’s a real threat inside,” Smith said. “We felt like coming in our chances were better inside. …We capitalized with him out of the game.”
The Wildcats have won six straight over Tennessee, but their most recent wins in Thompson-Boling Arena have been close. The Vols tried to set up another frantic finish to match last year’s overtime game.
Kentucky pushed its lead to 13 points early in the second half, and Tennessee had a short 7-0 run on two layups by C.J. Watson and a 3 by Scooter McFadgon that cut it to 49-43 with 13:50 to go. But the Wildcats reeled off a 15-3 run to put them up 64-46 with 8:44 left, sealing the victory.
“We could never get anything going. We did not do a good job overall, but especially allowing them so many offensive rebounds,” Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson said.
Lofton, Mr. Basketball in Kentucky last year, led the Vols with 17 points while Major Wingate added 14 and Watson had 12. Andre Patterson had 10 rebounds.
Sparks scored 14 points in the first half and was 4-of-10 from beyond the arc.