Well, it’s a good thing they didn’t fire Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari after that loss to South Carolina last week.
The Wildcats, coming off a defeat to one of the worst Southeastern Conference teams that ended their 28-0 home winning streak, limped into Knoxville, Tennessee, on Saturday without two starters and with its worst SEC start since 1987 at 1-3.
And they danced off the floor with a 63-56 win over No. 5 Tennessee in front of 21,678.
For now, the critics will be silenced somewhat.
In the history of Kentucky basketball, it marked the first win over an Associated Press top five SEC opponent on the road by an unranked Wildcats team. The Volunteers (14-3, 4-1) were 12-point favorites with more health and more depth.
“We needed to win a game,” Calipari said. “And to do this here is incredible with all the clutter these kids were dealing with.”
There was even talk that Calipari would be let go and take the open coaching job at Texas, but it’s amazing what a major victory can do.
Kentucky (11-6, 2-3) won without starting senior Sahvir Wheeler because of a shoulder injury and sophomore forward Daimon Collins because of a foot injury. Guard Cason Wallace played sparingly as he continued to struggle with back spasms suffered in the 71-68 loss to South Carolina on Tuesday. He logged just 22 minutes and finished 0-for-2 shooting with five turnovers. He did add six assists.
Kentucky Overcame Injuries To 2 Starters
“We’ve been through a lot,” said Kentucky senior guard C.J. Fredrick, who scored 13 points. “This is where we go. We go from here.”
The Wildcats trailed 8-0 in the opening moments but quickly took over and led for most of the second half and by 33-26 at the half. Kentucky outrebounded a long Tennessee team, 43-19. Vols’ 7-foot-1, 265-pound forward Uros Plavsic scored 19 points, but he managed only three rebounds. And 6-11 forward Jonas Aldoo led Tennessee in rebounding with only four.
“What we found out is we have some fight,” Calipari said. “We did some dumb things down the stretch, but we played good defense.”
Kentucky senior forward Oscar Tshiebwe dominated inside and looked like the national player of the year he was last season with 15 points and 13 rebounds. Guard Antonio Reeves scored 18 off the bench.
“That’s awesome,” Fredrick said of the Wildcats’ rebounding. “I love this team. After what happened against South Carolina last week, there was no doubt we were going to come here and win.”
South Carolina, by the way, lost by 94-53 to Texas A&M (12-5, 4-0) to fall to 8-9 overall and 1-3 in the SEC. There was another 40-point deficit in the SEC Saturday as No. 4 Alabama (15-1, 5-0) blitzed LSU (12-5, 1-5) for its largest margin of victory ever in the series and widest in the SEC since a 94-53 win over Auburn in 2005.
Kentucky picked up its first Quad 1 win after four losses in that category this season.
The Wildcats host Georgia (13-4, 3-1 SEC) at 9 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN. Tennessee plays at Mississippi State (12-5, 1-4 SEC) on Tuesday (7 p.m., ESPN2).