No. 3 Kentucky 73, Tennessee 61
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP)—In his final home game, Chuck Hayes left Kentucky basketball fans with a pleasant memory.
The senior forward scored nine of his 13 points in the final 5 1/2 minutes as the third-ranked Wildcats held off upset-minded Tennessee 73-61 on Wednesday night.
Patrick Sparks scored 14 points—all in the first half—for the Wildcats (23-3, 14-1), who already had clinched the Southeastern Conference title. Kentucky has one regular-season game remaining, at Florida on Sunday.
Tennessee (12-16, 5-10) hung with the Wildcats for most of the game and were tied 55-55 with 8:25 left after freshman guard Chris Lofton—Kentucky’s high school Mr. Basketball in 2004—hit his fifth 3-pointer.
But Tennessee didn’t score again until 1:53 remained, and Kentucky scored 16 of the next 18 points to extend its winning streak over the Volunteers to seven games.
“We’ve seen a Kentucky team do this a lot,” Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson said. “We all know that.”
Lofton scored 19 points, giving him 91 in Tennessee’s last four games.
After Lofton’s basket, Tennessee missed three chances to take the lead before Hayes gave the Wildcats the lead for good with a three-point play with 5:18 left. That was Kentucky’s first basket in more than 9 1/2 minutes.
“We have to eliminate those droughts,” Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. “Those can kill you as you get into this time of year.”
Fortunately for Kentucky, Hayes—who missed all but 6 minutes of the first half after picking up two early fouls—seemed determined to make sure the Wildcats won his last game at Rupp Arena.
“I’m a huge Chuck Hayes fan,” Peterson said, then quickly added, “I’m glad he’s graduating. He’s got that warrior mentality when the game is on the line.”
With Kentucky up 59-55, Hayes came up with a breakaway dunk after making a steal.
“That kind of broke them right then,” Hayes said.
On Kentucky’s next possession, he worked underneath for a basket, making it 63-55 with 3:15 left.
Hayes capped his burst with a dunk with 1:23 left, and left the game to a standing ovation with 54 seconds left. He finished 5-of-6 from the field.
“In the second half, I still wanted to play aggressive, but smarter,” Hayes said. “It was a very emotional night. You know this day is coming but you don’t want it to come.”
Kentucky shot 55.3 percent from the field, including 61.1 percent in the second half. It’s the third straight game Kentucky has shot better than 50 percent from the field, the first time that’s happened this season. The Wildcats also recorded assists on 20 of 26 baskets.
Behind the shooting of Lofton, who had 12 points, Tennessee led most of the first half. The Volunteers led by as many as six points and were up 32-27 with 5:38 left in the half after consecutive 3-pointers by Lofton.
“I think I’m just getting more shots up and I think that’s really helping me,” said Lofton, who finished 7-of-17 from the field and 5-of-13 from 3-point range.
Lofton has 86 3-pointers this season, breaking the Tennessee freshman record held by Allan Houston.
Kentucky scored the final 10 points of the first half to lead 37-32. Sparks had five points during that run.
Kentucky led 51-39 with 14:52 left after senior guard Josh Carrier’s third 3-pointer. Carrier, who made his first career start and played a career-high 19 minutes, had three 3-pointers and finished with a career-high nine points.
Tennessee played for the fourth straight game without leading scorer Scooter McFadgon, who has a bruised right leg.
Kentucky is one win away from becoming the first NCAA Division I basketball team to win 1,900 games.