What a joyous occasion!
The good guys were great. Inspirational, too, almost enough to make us believe the impossible might not really be.
Not to be confused with the Golden Rule, the new orange rule is to do unto others as others do unto you. Kentucky manhandled the Volunteers in Lexington. Officials stood around and let it happen for a half.
More aggressive Tennessee didn’t draw much blood Saturday but did achieve a full measure of revenge, a resounding knockout victory in front of a rambunctious crowd that had the happy time of their basketball lives.
Indeed, this might be as good as it gets.
Because there is still work to be done, I’ll let you know later whether this is actually my favorite team in Tennessee history. It doesn’t have great size, but it has talent. It is well-coached. It has courage. It plays defense as if it matters. It is fun to watch.
Jordan Bone performed as an all-American, and there wasn’t much the Wildcats could do about it. They couldn’t catch him. Grant Williams accepted the player-of-the-year challenge and rose above it. The hustle of John Fulkerson is invigorating.
Do you wonder who can jump higher, Jordan Bowden or Yves Pons? I know Admiral Schofield is a gladiator. Lamonte Turner is very valuable and a delight.
Much was made two weeks ago of UK superman PJ Washington outplaying Williams. PJ sounded a little like Ali when he admitted he is the greatest. Wildcats wondered aloud if the Vols were intimidated.
Teammates teased Williams, asking if he was really scared of the big, bad PJ.
He wasn’t. Grant was far superior this time. Rick Barnes helped. The defensive scheme forced Washington to go left. He was awarded 13 free throws (he hit nine) but made only two field goals.
Let us repeat the judgment: Williams wins, Williams wins.
Kentucky was handicapped by the absence of Reid Travis (knee ache). He is a tough hombre, a bar-bouncer type. UK coach John Calipari knows Reid would have helped but said it wouldn’t have been nearly enough. I agree.
Summation: Geography makes a difference. At Rupp Arena, the Wildcats fed off the hungry crowd and took the fight to Tennessee. The Vols failed to match the intensity.
The rematch was almost exactly opposite. The home crowd helped the Vols. All involved had figured out what it would take to win. There were times the Wildcats appeared rattled. They must have wondered how could they win by 17 one place and lose by 19 at the other?
If the stars line up and there is a third round, it will be in Nashville at the SEC tournament or maybe somewhere late in the NCAA extravaganza. Kentucky has more talent. Tennessee is the better team – if the referees are armed with whistles.
Meanwhile, the Vols have a preliminary problem. Tuesday is senior night. It might be emotional. There is just one Admiral in our world. Mississippi State can play. It would not be good to lose focus.
Saturday at Auburn is a trap. The Tigers have more to gain than to lose. Bruce Pearl is still running hot. Be ready or beware.
Such is the grind of SEC basketball on the road. Worthy opponents are waiting at every stop. Vols failed to respond in Lexington … poor officiating in Baton Rouge … fortunate survival in Oxford. Auburn won’t be easy.
Isn’t it wonderful to have the team everybody else is chasing? Bring it on.
Marvin West invites reader response or questions. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org