I do not hear well but, even with all that Rupp Arena noise, I kept hearing Willie Nelson singing “Turn out the lights, the party’s over.”
It isn’t, but what remains sure will be different.
The loss in Lexington was not the end of the basketball world as we knew it. The beautiful season can resume Tuesday night, but the No. 1 ranking and the 19-game winning streak are gone. Tennessee confidence has been damaged. You won’t hear as much fan talk about the Final Four. You won’t see a lot of bicep flexing. The Volunteers may not be able to hide all the bruises. For sure, their feelings are hurt.
Tennessee came for a game. Kentucky was ready for a war.
The Wildcats clobbered what had been the power team in the SEC. From the very first play it was knock-down-and-drag-out for a half. No whistles, survival rules, best man wins. The homeboys were best. And biggest. And strongest. And fiercely determined. The bloodthirsty crowd helped with the rout.
It was tough out there. I’ve seen softer, kinder, more gentle football games. I wasn’t sure whether the Vols couldn’t run plays in the paint or didn’t dare.
The Wildcats were the aggressors throughout the evening. They were great on defense. They dominated the backboards. They hit a high percentage. The Vols settled for a lot of long shots. They didn’t hit many.
There was false hope at halftime, only a six-point deficit. Kentucky opened the second part with a 14-0 run. It was humbling.
The key to dealing with a decisive defeat is to not allow one to become two. Vanderbilt will come to town with more than a glimmer of hope. The Commodores made it overtime close in Nashville. They could win this time if they play like Kentucky – and the officials don’t notice.
Vandy is only the first concern. The hard part of the backloaded schedule remains. There is a potentially intimidating trip to Baton Rouge. LSU won at Kentucky. Somewhat amazing Ole Miss will be waiting. Auburn can redeem its season when the Vols visit the lovely village on the plains.
Kentucky comes to Thompson-Boling on March 2. Careful how you use the word “revenge.”
If you sift through the Saturday wreckage, there are some interesting fragments. On the first play, PJ Washington, 6-8 and 233, came roaring down the lane directly at Grant Williams. The big Cat made no effort to avoid a collision.
Williams hung in there, then went sprawling. The brave official gave a dramatic charging call. Washington responded with a whimsical so-what. That was the official signal that war had been declared.
Williams, a tough guy, fearless, was on the floor five other times. He looked like he could use a full-strength aspirin. Admiral Schofield was decked and had to go out for repairs. Kyle Alexander was pushed around and once thrown in the general direction of photographers.
Jordan Bone hit three of four from outside, had six assists to three turnovers but didn’t do much piloting of the designed offense. The other two guards, Lamonte Turner and Jordan Bowden, were lost. They combined for three of 18 shooting.
Officials underwent a transformation at intermission. Someone must have told them it was supposed to be basketball. They called some fouls in the second half. Some were of the touch variety, no body fluids spilled, no Band-Aids required.
Rick Barnes made one major save. He switched to a zone that changed the flow and helped Tennessee with a modest comeback from 24 down. The game, headed toward total humiliation, returned to semi-respectability. The Vols deserve credit for not fleeing.
Barnes responded with traditional tough love. He said he did not recognize his team on the floor. He said the Vols sure could have used Alexander on defense.
All who spoke were unanimous in analysis. The Vols got their butts kicked.
That was then. For better or bad (there is no worse), there are games to go.
Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is firstname.lastname@example.org