(Photo from @vol_hoops IG)
The state of Tennessee has declared a state of emergency due to the result of multiple tornadoes that touched down late Monday night/early Tuesday morning. Thousands are without power, homes and businesses are destroyed and residents are still missing. The images are heartbreaking.
Tennessee head coach, Rick Barnes, talked to a friend who was in the destruction path and asked how the program could help those impacted. He told Barnes “the first thing you could do is beat the Kentucky Wildcats”.
At halftime, Kentucky lead 31-42. Kentucky was 129-0 over the last 10 seasons when they were leading at halftime by double digits. Kentucky’s Richards hit free throws at the 17:30 mark to increase the Wildcat lead to 17 points. Then, the real battle began. Tennessee clawed their way point by point to get back in the game. The defensive game and John Fulkerson went full on beast mode! Those last seven minutes of the game we saw a young Tennessee team put on a show that was the pure definition of March Madness. Final score 81-73 Tennessee.
Kentucky coach John Calipari said after the game “We got manhandled tonight. I got manhandled tonight. I don’t want to want to watch this tape.”
Tennessee vs. Kentucky. It’s a deeply rooted, bitter rivalry. Going back to the start of the rivalry in 1910, Kentucky has twice as many wins, but let’s look the records since 2013.The last 16 times the Vols and the Wildcats have played the series, it is tied at 8-8. Of those 16 games, Kentucky was ranked 14 times while Tennessee was only ranked 4 times. Tennessee has beaten Kentucky more than any other team in the country! While coaching for Tennessee, Rick Barnes is 7-5 against Kentucky. The entire state of Kentucky hates Rick Barnes.
I’ve told my twin brother all season that there is no kid who plays harder than John Fulkerson. Fulky plays every play 110% percent. He plays loose, but that’s his hustle. But last night, he was strong and more grounded. He took a double elbow to the nose (a foul wasn’t even called) but he’s so tough there was never any blood because he had ice water in his veins. Fulky scored 27 points and became the second highest point scored against Kentucky in a Vol uniform.
Fulky won the MVP of the game, but he will be the first person to tell you it was full team win. Yves Pons continues to live up to his nickname; AirPons through his athleticism. His 15-points on the board and extending the consecutive game with a blocked shot to 30 games, were all factors in the win in Rupp Arena.
When the only returning starter, senior Lamonte Turner, announced in December his season was over due to shoulder injuries, the leadership was now on the only other senior, Jordan Bowden. Bowden struggled with the weight of the team on his shoulders. Bowden is a personal all-time favorite of mine. While he has had a lot of ups and downs with his shooting this year, this kid has never had a bad day in his life. He’s fun to be around and has some sweet dance moves. His social media reflects why Rick Barnes praises his attitude and leadership. He may not have been putting up the numbers on the score board, but his unselfishness and defense kept him in the lineup. Bowden has finally found his rhythm and his 11 points against Kentucky gave the senior a great memory of his last time playing in Rupp Arena.
February ended with Tennessee being left out of the March Madness projected bracket. March started and the Madness has just begun. I hope Joey Brackets, also known as, Joe Lunardi watched that game. Don’t count the Vols the out just yet. Tennessee is still alive in making the NCAA Tournament.
Beating Auburn on Saturday at home and doing well in the SEC Tournament could make Tennessee a lock for putting on their dancing shoes. According to the ESPN app, they give Tennessee a 51.9% chance of beating Auburn. Tennessee fans know to take it one game at a time. Saturday at noon on ESPN2, it’s on! LET’S GO VOLS!
Here is a link of how can you can help those impacted by the tornadoes.