for this game

Tennessee holds on to beat Kentucky

Mar 2, 2008 - 9:48 PM KNOXVILLE, Tennessee (Ticker) -- Tennessee hardly was at its best against a Southeastern Conference rival. But Volunteers coach Bruce Pearl was proud of his team's toughness.

Tyler Smith scored 15 points Sunday afternoon as top-ranked Tennessee held on for a 63-60 victory over Kentucky in an SEC rivalry contest.

Despite squandering a 15-point lead against a Kentucky team playing without injured forward Patrick Patterson, the Volunteers (26-3, 12-2 SEC East) gritted their way to bounce back from a disappointing loss to Vanderbilt earlier this week.

"It is not easy, and it is not always pretty," Pearl said. "We may not be smartest or the best, but we are resilient."

Tennessee avenged a loss at Kentucky on January 22 and claimed a two-game lead over the Wildcats (16-11, 10-4) in the SEC East standings. The Volunteers gained the top spot in the national rankings for the first time in the program's history Monday following a hard-fought win at then-No. 1 Memphis two days earlier.

However, Tennessee likely will fall from the No. 1 spot courtesy of Tuesday's 72-69 loss at Vanderbilt.

But beating the hated Wildcats evidently was more than enough to make Smith happy.

"Altogether, I think it was a great week for us," Smith said. "Even though we lost our No. 1 spot, we're still happy with where we're at."

Tennessee senior Chris Lofton scored 14 points and banked home a runner with 1:13 remaining to give the Volunteers a 63-57 lead.

After halving the deficit on a 3-pointer by Derrick Jasper with 1:02 left, Kentucky had a pair of chances to forge a tie over the final 20 seconds. But leading scorer Joe Crawford missed a 3-pointer with three seconds remaining, ending the Wildcats' upset bid.

"I thought it was in," said Crawford, who struggled to just nine points - nearly eight below his season average. "There was no question in my mind."

"We ended with not exactly what we wanted, but we did get two looks at the basket," Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie added. "I thought Crawford's shot had a real chance to go in. Any loss is heartbreaking."

The Volunteers appeared as if they would take out their frustrations on the Wildcats, jumping to a 20-5 lead over the first 11 minutes Sunday.

Kentucky responded, however, trimming its halftime deficit to 34-27 and taking its first lead of the contest when Ramon Harris converted a three-point play to make it 42-41 with 13:54 remaining.

"A lot of people probably thought with Patrick Patterson out and the building, the pageantry, and all those things, that those things would bring us a win," Pearl said. "But it was not to be the case."

"We played extremely hard, but we did not get it done," Gillispie added. "I was really proud of a courageous effort by our players. We played very smart for the most part, and I am really happy about that."

Ramel Bradley scored 17 points while Perry Stevenson added 13 and 14 rebounds for the Wildcats, who lost for just the second time in their last 11 games.