By BETH RUCKER
Associated Press Writer
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Chris Lofton is tired and sore. It's
been that kind of week for him and his fellow Volunteers.
Tennessee hung on to beat Kentucky 63-60 on Sunday, in a week
that included the Vols' first No. 1 ranking in school history on
Monday and a loss to No. 18 Vanderbilt on Tuesday.
"That's college basketball," Lofton said. "It's something we
have to deal with and get over."
The Vols have played three straight games against their biggest
rivals, including a win over then-No. 1 Memphis, and needed the win
over Kentucky to stay atop the Southeastern Conference.
"Altogether, I think it was a great week for us, even though we
lost our No. 1 spot," Tennessee forward Tyler Smith said. "We're
still happy with where we're at."
With one more win, Tennessee (26-3, 12-2) will capture the SEC
East Division and a share of the conference title. But the Vols are
trying to earn their first outright SEC regular season championship
in 41 years.
All of that was put in peril when the Vols squandered a big
early lead against Kentucky (16-11, 10-4). Lofton scored 14 points,
including a jump shot with 1:15 left, as Tennessee hung on to avoid
consecutive losses for the first time this season.
Derrick Jasper hit a 3-pointer to cut the Vols' lead to 63-60,
but Jasper and Joe Crawford both missed 3-point shots in the final
20 seconds that would have sent the game to overtime.
"I thought it was in," Crawford said of his shot. "There was
no question in my mind."
Tennessee held a 34-27 halftime advantage after leading the
entire first half, but Kentucky tied it at 41 when Ramon Harris hit
a jumper while being fouled by Duke Crews.
Harris hit the free throw to put the Wildcats up 42-41 with
The teams then traded the lead until Ramar Smith dunked the ball
to put Tennessee up 58-57 with 4:24 left. The Vols held onto the
lead the rest of the game.
"We showed enough poise down the stretch to win," said
Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, who donned his bright-orange sports
coat for the game.
Tyler Smith finished with 15 points for the Vols.
Ramel Bradley led Kentucky with 17 points. Perry Stevenson added
13 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, and Harris finished with 12
"It's a tough loss. We had the chance of winning against a very
good team on their home court," Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie
said. "We played extremely hard, but we didn't get it done."
Always a bitter rivalry between bordering states, Tennessee
added pomp and circumstance by honoring former All-American Ernie
Grunfeld and retiring his No. 22 at halftime.
The rivalry between the Vols and Wildcats thrived when Grunfeld
and fellow All-American Bernard King played in the late '70s,
during the days of the so-called "Ernie & Bernie Show."
The Vols also dubbed the Sunday game Lofton's senior night, and
hung 408 tiny '3' signs around the rim of the upper deck at
Thompson-Boling Arena to represent each of his career 3-pointers
entering the game.
Lofton has averaged more than 19 points against Kentucky, who
snubbed the Maysville, Ky., native coming out of high school.
He hit his only 3 of the game on two attempts with 13:38 left in
the first half.
Tennessee jumped out to a quick 11-2 lead, and the Vols built
the advantage to 20-5 on a putback shot by Ramar Smith with 11:22
left before halftime.
Tennessee managed only two free throws in 3½ minutes as Kentucky
scored nine points.
Bradley hit a jumper with the shot clock expiring to cut
Tennessee's lead to 32-27 with 1:16 left in the half.
The Wildcats were playing without freshman phenom Patrick
Patterson, who scored 20 points in their 72-66 win over Tennessee
X-rays revealed Friday that Patterson, who was averaging more
than 16 points a game, had a stress fracture in his left ankle and
will miss the rest of the season.
"With Patrick going down, everyone had to step up and do a
little bit more," Bradley said. "Everyone stepped up and did
their job and we had a chance."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)