No. 19 Tennessee hands No. 6 Arizona first loss 77-73
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) John Fulkerson had 24 points and 10 rebounds, and No. 19 Tennessee overpowered No. 6 Arizona early and held on for a 77-73 win Wednesday night, giving the Wildcats their first loss.
Santiago Vescovi had 15 points, Josiah-Jordan James added 12 and Justin Powell scored 11 for the Volunteers (9-2).
Bennedict Mathurin had 14 of his 28 points in the first half. He was the only Arizona (11-1) starter to score in the first 20 minutes as Tennessee took a 34-21 lead. Kerr Kriisa scored 11 points for Arizona.
Tennessee hit seven of its first 11 shots and opened with a 16-2 advantage in the first five minutes. It took the Wildcats until the first four minutes of the second half to get back in the game. Arizona hit 7 of 9 shots to start the second half to cut the Vols' lead to 44-40.
Christian Koloko's layup tied it at 62 with about five minutes left. With the game tied at 67, Fulkerson had a layup and two free throws to stretch the Tennessee lead to four.
With the Vols up 71-69, Fulkerson grabbed an offensive rebound, scored and was fouled, putting Tennessee up by four.
Arizona: Respect was a big part of what the Wildcats were seeking in their pre-Pac-12 campaign. Wins over Michigan and Illinois gave some credibility. The trip to Tennessee was supposed to be another confidence builder heading into the heart of the schedule. Arizona came into the Tennessee game No. 1 in the country in scoring (91.0 points per game), scoring margin (+28.2) and assists per game (21.8).
Tennessee: With the tough Southeastern Conference season set to commence next week, Tennessee could have used the tuneup against Memphis that was scuttled by COVID-19 on Saturday. The Vols have prided themselves on asserting their will on defense. That, and 3-point shooting, will carry them through several tough games.
Arizona: The Wildcats journey to Knoxville was the start of the meat grinder portion of their schedule. After a break for Christmas, they return to action Thursday, Dec. 30 in Los Angeles for an early Pac-12 showdown with UCLA.
Tennessee: The SEC schedule starts with a bang Wednesday, Dec. 29 when they travel to face Alabama, a preseason favorite to finish high in the standings.
More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25
Tennessee Head Coach Rick Barnes
On what he learned about Tennessee's toughness in its victory Wednesday…
"We knew that we were playing a very tough team in a lot of different areas. It was a big thing that we talked about. We knew it was going to be a heavyweight fight, which it was. There was no doubt. I think our older guys have been around long enough to know that when you jump on a team—and they're every bit as good as their record and where they're ranked and maybe it should be higher—you knew they would make a push to get back in it. I thought the way we finished the first half was a big sequence for us, where we were able to go down and score. We were wanting to go two-for-one. We took a little bit longer than we wanted, but then they probably shot it a little bit earlier than they wanted to. I thought at that point when you bend a little bit but don't break, I thought what Fulky (John Fulkerson) did on the front line was huge. We finally got it to him and he got to the free throw line. Josiah (James) made some plays. A stat that is as big as any is what Olivier (Nkamhoua) did with those blocks. Those were some big-time blocks. Even when he was called for a foul on one, I thought it was a great play by him against a team that really blocks a lot of shots. I think they've blocked seven per game coming in. It was a great effort. Santi (Vescovi) at times, settles us down. Justin Powell coming off the bench and everybody who came into the game had something to do with it. To your question, I think it's something that we needed because it was really a hard-fought game both ways."
Arizona Head Coach Tommy Lloyd
On how he looked at the game...
"I mean, it's an experience and we're going to really learn from it. You know, we came out really tentative against a really good, aggressive team and they put us on our heels, you can't do that on the road. I was obviously really proud of our response, but you can't dig that big a hole against a really good team like that."
On what Tennessee did defensively…
"They're great defensively. Just the things you tell the guys, 'Hey, you drive it into those seams, they're going reach and poke at the ball. They're going to be aggressive on those things, the passes you think you'll have in practice aren't going to be there so you're going to have to take an extra second.' You know, just the normal stuff. Listen, and it's hard to simulate what they do in practice. So, it takes some time to sometimes get a feel for it, and I thought once we settled down we got a lot better, I just wish it wouldn't have taken so long."