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Lofton leads Tennessee over Kentucky

Feb 14, 2007 - 5:27 AM KNOXVILLE, Tennessee (Ticker) -- Chris Lofton is rounding back into shape and so is Tennessee.

Lofton scored 23 points to lead the Volunteers to an 89-85 Southeastern Conference victory over No. 18 Kentucky.

On a night when the school retired the number of former NBA All-Star Bernard King, Tennessee (18-8, 6-5 SEC East) won its third straight game following a streak in which it had lost six of eight.

The slump coincided with an injury to leading scorer Lofton, who sat our four games. Tuesday's contest was his third game back and Tennessee has won all three with the Wooden Award candidate.

A junior guard, Lofton finally squashed a furious comeback by Kentucky (18-6, 7-4 East), hitting five free throws in the final 29 seconds.

"Chris Lofton was double-teamed but we were able to make some plays out of that situation," Vols coach Bruce Pearl said. "We were able to get the ball into Lofton's hands at the end, and that was our strategy partly because Lofton is more likely to get the whistle. He is an All-America. If he gets hit, we will get the whistle."

Tennessee also received outstanding production from its freshman forward tandem of Duke Crews and Wayne Chism. Crews scored 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting while Chism supplied 16 points, three blocks and three steals while hitting 7-of-11 shots.

The Vols led by as many as 16 points early in the second half, but guards Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford brought the Wildcats back.

Bradley scored 12 points in the first seven minutes of the second half and Crawford netted 18 of his 24 points following the break as Kentucky finally pulled even at 77-77 on a pair of free throws by Jodie Meeks with 3:54 to play.

"Kentucky came back because they made shots," Pearl said. "They made tough shots. They also got the ball inside to Randolph Morris. They are a good 3-point shooting team."

After the teams traded baskets, Chism and Ramar Smith scored inside to give the Vols an 83-79 lead with 2:09 left and Lofton closed out the Wildcats at the stripe, sending Kentucky to its second straight defeat.

"I thought Joe Crawford shot the ball better tonight, and we did some good things inside," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "Ramel Bradley shot the ball well, but he just made some careless turnovers down the stretch. There at the end we were trying to keep the ball out of Chris Lofton's hands - he is one of the best free-throw shooters in the country."

Tennessee had an impressive burst in the first half, hitting five 3-pointers in 2 1/2 minutes - including two each by Lofton and Jordan Howell - to take a 10-point lead en route to a 40-30 halftime advantage.

Although Kentucky dominated the boards, 39-27, the Vols had eight turnovers to go with 25 assists, including nine by point guard Dane Bradshaw.

"For us to have 25 assists and only eight turnovers is quite an accomplishment," Pearl said. "Both teams played good defense in the first half, but neither could stop the other one in the second half. We made some big defensive stops toward the end of the game."

Bradley and Morris added 14 points apiece for Kentucky, which shot 67 percent (20-of-30) in the second half, including 7-of-12 from the arc.

"I thought we really fought hard and showed a lot of character to battle back after being down and not really playing well," Smith said. "Foul trouble hurt us a lot, but we had some positive things happen to us tonight."