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Keith Taylor: Transformed by reboot, Cats put together complete game in easy win over Vols

Malik Monk scored 20 points in UK”s win over Tennessee Tuesday night at Rupp Arena (Tammie Brown Photo)

Kentucky is back to having fun again.

Three weeks since an 82-80 setback to Tennessee that led to three losses in four games and forced John Calipari to go into reboot mode, the Wildcats returned to form in a dominating 83-58 win over the Volunteers Tuesday night.

The Wildcats (21-5, 11-2 Southeastern Conference) shared the ball unselfishly and finished with 17 assists and committed just seven turnovers against a Tennessee team that got the full brunt of Kentucky’s revamped defense. Kentucky limited the Volunteers to their lowest scoring output of the season and Calipari admitted the defensive showing was “as good as it’s been since the beginning to the year.”

BOXSCORE: Kentucky 83, Tennessee 58

“That’s what we have been working on,” Calipari said afterward. “We were playing that way early (in the season), they got away from it, so it makes us look like a different team.”

That team put Tennessee away early in the first half, using an 18-3 run, producing a double-digit lead that blossomed to as many as 28 points in the second half, proving the Wildcats are capable of putting teams away down the stretch.

“We came out with great energy,” Kentucky senior Dominique Hawkins said. “Everybody played well together. We were moving the ball. I had many open shots and we remembered last game how we played (against Tennessee) and we didn’t want to play that bad again.”

The Wildcats also looked confident and had their swagger back, especially on offense. Kentucky connected on 11 3-pointers, including a season-high 10 in the opening half that enabled the Wildcats to pull away from the Volunteers with ease. Derek Willis and Malik Monk combined for eight treys that opened up the team’s offense. Monk also grabbed eight rebounds — all on the defensive end.

For the first time in a long time, Monk said the Wildcats pieced together a complete game.

“That’s what we’ve been trying to do the whole season,” Monk said. “We’ve had spurts, like every game, we’ve had spurts of us doing that, but I mean, we’ve been trying to do it the whole season.”

Unlike its performance in Knoxville, Kentucky dominated the Volunteers from start to finish and it wasn’t even close. It wasn’t the same tired Wildcat team that appeared to hit a wall after opening the conference schedule with seven straight victories before the Knoxville letdown.

Read More at Keith's Blog

Read More at Keith’s Blog: Out of the Blue

“They did whatever they wanted last time,” Calipari said. “I think you see us different defensively. I think you see us different in transition defense. I think you see the difference offensively. Some of the rebooting you’re seeing. And that’s part of the what we did.”

And it all started in practice. Behind the scenes Calipari instituted a drill that had the offense playing with an 18-point lead in an effort to get the Wildcats to stay focused even when leading by double digits.

“We started talking defensively what we had to do, it’s just, they don’t know,” Calipari said. “Any time I think these young kids know, I know I’m wrong. They don’t know.”

Photo Gallery by Tammie Brown

Calipari admitted the performance was part of “growing up” and “being a man” but doesn’t want the team to become complacent and think they have arrived after turning in a complete outing against Tennessee.

“We’re trying to continue to work, it’s a work in progress,” the Kentucky coach said.

Willis agreed and said the rout was a “good step in the right direction.”

“It’s definitely been better than how we’ve been playing,” Willis said. “I think everybody can agree with that. It was just a good game for us.”

Hawkins hopes the trend continues as their collegiate careers wind down.

“It’s been a while since we’ve been able to keep up a lead like this and hopefully it continues in the future,” he said.

The outing against the Vols was a good starting point.

Gametracker: Kentucky at Georgia, 6 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: ESPN, 98.1 FM WBUL.

Keith Taylor is a senior sports writer for KyForward, where he primarily covers University of Kentucky sports. Reach him at keith.taylor@kyforward.com or @keithtaylor21 on Twitter

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