LEXINGTON, Ky. — Grant Williams walked into the Tennessee huddle Saturday and dropped a jarring remark to coach Rick Barnes.
“I told Coach Barnes, ‘This is the most selfish I have seen us play in three years,’” Williams said.
Williams wasn’t sure what had No. 1 Tennessee playing so out of character. Maybe it was the environment in a rowdy Rupp Arena, he speculated. Perhaps it was an errant mind-set entering the game.
But the result was brutal regardless of the reason: Tennessee didn’t have much offensive execution to speak of in its 86-69 loss to No. 5 Kentucky.
“The things that we said we needed to do tonight, we didn’t do,” Barnes said Saturday. “We were a really poor, selfish team offensively. I told the coaches, ‘I don’t know who I’m looking at, what I’m looking at, where to turn.’ Because, again, we just didn’t give ourselves a chance.”
Consequently, Tennessee (23-2, 11-1 SEC) had arguably its worst game of the year and suffered only its second loss. UT had won 19 straight games dating to a Nov. 23 overtime loss to Kansas entering Saturday against Kentucky (21-4, 10-2).
It largely did so with impressive offense, averaging an SEC-best 85.4 points per game this season. It also led the SEC in assists with 20 per game. It had a season-worst 11 against the Wildcats and scored a season-low 69 points.
On Saturday, the Vols shot 40.7 percent from the field, marking their third-lowest total this season and the lowest since their win against Gonzaga on Dec. 9 — the last time they faced a ranked team. They also shot 28 percent from 3-point range, making only seven of 25 attempts.
“We needed to do was just play together as a team and not do things one on one,” Barnes said. “We just didn’t do any of that. The first half we didn’t do the things we had done all year, in terms of our offense. …
“All we wanted to do was trying to get ourselves to play together. We didn’t do that. I thought it was the most selfish we’ve played all year.”
Tennessee has spent the past four weeks as the nation’s top-ranked team. That reign will come to an end Monday after its jarring loss to Kentucky.
“We are going to challenge each other because that’s not how we play,” Williams said. “That’s not what Tennessee is.”