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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – If this is how Kentucky plays the rest of the season without Nerlens Noel, the NCAA tournament selection committee won't give the Wildcats a chance to defend their national title.
Trae Golden scored 24 points and had eight assists without a turnover Saturday as Tennessee rolled to an 88-58 victory over Kentucky, giving the Volunteers their most lopsided win in the 216-game history of this series.
Kentucky (17-8, 8-4 Southeastern Conference) was playing its first game without Noel, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee Tuesday during a 69-52 loss to No. 7 Florida.
"They deserved to beat us by 50 today," Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "They played harder. They played rougher. They executed better. They were stronger with the ball. We just had passive guys who did not want to make plays. (We were) tentative."
Noel, a 6-foot-10 freshman, was leading the nation in blocks (4.4), was tied for the SEC lead in rebounds (9.5) and ranked fourth in the SEC in steals (2.1).
The Wildcats weren't the same without him.
"(That's) no excuse," said Kentucky forward Kyle Wiltjer, who led the Wildcats with 18 points. "We have plenty of capable guys."
A Tennessee offense that has struggled for much of the season often scored at will against a Kentucky team that entered the day ranked second in the SEC in field-goal percentage defense (.382). Tennessee shot 58 percent from the field and outrebounded Kentucky 39-21.
Tennessee (14-10, 6-6) entered the day ranked 13th out of 14 SEC teams in 3-point percentage (.286), but the Vols made all five of their attempts Saturday.
"The way we played today, I don't think there's too many teams we would have lost to," said Tennessee guard Jordan McRae, who scored 15 points. "I think If they had still had (Noel), we would have won. You can't prove that, so it is what it is."
Tennessee won its third straight game overall and ended a six-game losing streak in this rivalry. The Wildcats still lead the all-time series 149-67, though no program in the nation has more victories over Kentucky than Tennessee. Before Saturday, Tennessee's most one-sided victory over Kentucky was an 87-59 triumph on Jan. 22, 1968.
This also represented Kentucky's most one-sided defeat since a 93-52 loss to Vanderbilt on Feb. 12, 2008. The 30-point margin was three points shy of Calipari's most lopsided loss as a college head coach. Calipari's UMass team fell 88-55 to West Virginia exactly 24 years before Saturday's game.
Calipari said he sensed a game like this might be coming.
"(The players) were awful in practice," Calipari said. "This week was our worst in four years. It was because guys were a little anxious and tired out."
Julius Mays had 12 points and Jarrod Polson had a career-high 11 for Kentucky. Wiltjer and Polson replaced Alex Poythress and Ryan Harrow in Kentucky's starting lineup Saturday, while 7-foot freshman Willie Cauley-Stein took Noel's place. Cauley-Stein, Poythress and Harrow all fouled out.
Conventional wisdom suggested Kentucky's biggest problem Saturday without Noel would be trying to slow down Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes, who entered the day with six straight double-doubles. Stokes battled foul trouble for much of the day and ended up with nine points and nine rebounds.
Instead, Stokes' teammates did most of the damage in front of a sellout crowd of 21,678 that included Milwaukee Bucks forward and former Vols star Tobias Harris as well as ex-Tennessee football coach Phillip Fulmer.
"We've gotten better with our offense, the flow and the movement," Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. "I think that all starts with Trae Golden. When he's playing the way we expect him to play, everything falls in line and it just becomes a fun game to play."
Neither team hid its emotions over the stunning results. Calipari didn't hesitate to show his frustration, particularly after assistant coach John Robic was ejected from the game with 11:17 left in the first half.
"They got (a) call wrong, and he was disappointed about it and said something," Calipari said. "I don't think he said enough to get tossed, but he did."
After Kentucky called a timeout while trailing 33-12 with 9:51 remaining in the half, Tennessee guard Skylar McBee pumped his fist at midcourt and all his teammates openly celebrated on the floor as well. After receiving a hard foul from Tennessee's Armani Moore that appeared to include a push with 2:28 left in the game, Kentucky's Archie Goodwin quickly got up off the floor and shoved Moore in the back.
While Tennessee seemingly could do nothing wrong, Kentucky did little right. The Wildcats had more turnovers (10) than baskets (nine) in the first half.
Tennessee continued pouring it on after halftime. The Vols led by as many as 39 points while Kentucky battled foul trouble. Poythress fouled out with 9:43 left in the game. Cauley-Stein picked up his fifth foul 22 seconds later. Harrow fouled out with 4:50 remaining and left the game without any points, assists or rebounds in 18 minutes.
"I'll burn the tape from this one," Calipari said. "I won't watch it. I had to sit through it, so I'm not going to sit through it again."