You have to love this Tennessee team. On the Vol Network postgame, Bob Kesling said John Fulkerson drew 12 of Kentucky’s 21 fouls, he of the fresh haircut and 16 points. I’m not sure Fulkerson was ever supposed to be Plan B for this team, and now he’s Plan A against Kentucky. Santiago Vescovi has been here for a heartbeat, and can be a feast or a famine every time he touches the ball. Today he scored 18 points and only turned it over thrice…
It wasn’t enough today. It was enough to give the Vols a chance: down five with 2:30 to play, Jordan Bowden got as good of a look as you could ask for against these guys, and just missed. Tennessee shot 7-of-26 from the arc; they can survive South Carolina and Alabama at a percentage like that, but not Kentucky. And these particular Cats are ruthless at the free throw line and really good at getting there: 22-of-25 today, taking advantage of every opportunity and giving the Vols no second chances after that missed three.
Barnes said in the postgame that this team is getting better, and he’s right. It’s not just a static “good game” idea that the Vols had a shot against Kentucky without Lamonte Turner and Josiah James. Fulkerson is so much more than we thought he could be, Pons means you’re never quite sure you’re beat on a play, and when Vescovi feasts the whole team eats well.
They’re running out of chances to get better fast enough to make the dance floor: the Vols fall to 13-10 (5-5) with a quick, tough turnaround in hosting Arkansas on Tuesday night. But at least this ragtag group of players, in playing hard and being fun to root for, is giving us more than just an, “Oh well, wait til the freshmen get here.” Today’s performance was another reason to be excited about getting Fulkerson, Pons, and Vescovi back next season too.
Kentucky snaps a four-game losing streak in Knoxville, and moves into a three-way tie with Auburn and LSU at 8-2 in league play. The Vols need wins. I don’t know if they’ll get better in ways that lead to the bracket. But there was still some in encouragement in the way they played today, even in having to let go of a streak we thoroughly enjoyed against Kentucky.