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Kentucky stuns No. 5 Tennessee as Wildcats bounce back in big way

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Kentucky rebounded from a stunning home loss to South Carolina by knocking off No. 5 Tennessee 63-56 on the road Saturday as a double-digit underdog. Playing shorthanded without starting point guard Sahvir Wheeler, the Wildcats dominated on the boards and rallied from an early 8-0 deficit to finally pick up their first Quad 1 victory of the season.

Tennessee (14-3, 4-1 SEC) entered as a 10.5-point favorite with the nation's No. 1 ranked defense, but Kentucky used a 12-4 edge in second-chance points to overcome 19 turnovers. The Wildcats (11-6, 2-3) won the rebounding battle 43-23 while putting an end to Tennessee's 25-game home winning streak.

Uros Plavsic scored a career-high 19 points for the Volunteers, who rallied from a 58-50 deficit to have a chance to tie the game or take the lead in the final minute. But after a Plavisc miss with 32 seconds left, the Wildcats iced the game.

In addition to the absence of Wheeler, who missed the game due to a shoulder injury, the Wildcats were also without reserve forward Daimion Collins because of a foot injury. Freshman guard Cason Wallace played but appeared limited and did not score after injuring his back in the South Carolina loss.

With a limited rotation, guards Antonio Reeves and CJ Fredrick came up big for the Wildcats. Reeves scored 18 and Fredrick added 13 while Oscar Tshiebwe finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds.

After its first 1-3 start to SEC play since the 1986-87 season, Kentucky entered the game outside the projected NCAA Tournament field, according to CBS Sports Bracketology Expert Jerry Palm. But Saturday's win marks the biggest of the year for the Wildcats.

Fresh life for the 'Cats

Kentucky began the season ranked No. 4 in the AP Top 25 and as the preseason favorite to win the SEC. But the first two months of coach John Calipari's 14th season were nothing short of a disappointment. A 78-52 loss at Alabama last Saturday followed by Tuesday's stunning loss the Gamecocks sent the proud Wildcats fan base spiraling into anger, much of it directed toward its legendary coach. 

The programs's last NCAA Tournament victory came in 2019, and the team's performance over the last week raised questions over whether these Wildcats have what it takes to even reach the Big Dance this season. A road win over the Volunteers changes the outlook, however. 

Kentucky has a manageable stretch of games upcoming with home dates against Georgia and Texas A&M next week, followed by a game at Vanderbilt before a Big 12/SEC Challenge showdown at home with No. 2 Kansas on Jan. 28. If the Wildcats can use the momentum built against Tennessee to handle business over the next two weeks, they'll have a chance to flip this season's narrative entirely when the Jayhawks come to town.

 

WWW.CBSSPORTS.COM

Kentucky was a double-digit underdog entering the game but ended Tennessee's 25-game home winning streak

 

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