Tennessee – 70
Arizona – 75
Tucson Ariz. – The Arizona Wildcats welcomed the Tennessee Volunteers to an electric McKale Center in Tucson with a coordinated crowd color design similar to Tennessee’s checkerboard with light-up batons for added flare.
A matchup between the number nine and six ranked teams respectively with this type of environment felt like March basketball before we even hit Christmas. While both teams are highly ranked, they have very different strengths as Arizona has the number one ranked offense and Tennessee has the number one ranked defense, according to the KenPom rankings at the time. That was the narrative to start the game until The Vols flipped the script and went 4/4 with the ball to start the game with two of those possessions being threes. Until the narrative changed when The Vols got into foul trouble. Tennessee shot zero free throws compared to Arizona’s 12. The Vols were without their veteran leader, Josiah Jordan-James, for the sixth time in eleven games and would have to face adversity without him on the floor. Despite the disproportionate trips to the charity stripe and 8 lead changes we went to the half tied at 35 thanks to Zakai Zeigler going 4/5 off the bench for nine points. Arizona had no points from their bench but had the two leading scorers in Ballo with 11 and Tubelis with 10.
Early in the second half The Vols had to withstand an early barrage from The Wildcats who built up to a six-point lead as the foul troubles continued with Uros Plavsic having to sit down quickly into the half with his third foul and a technical called on Julian Philips for a flop. After two free throws from Santiago Vescovi the lead was cut to four and Vescovi had scored exactly 1,000 points as a Tennessee Volunteer. At the 14:00 mark the foul troubles became even more pressing for The Vols as they were called for their 19th personal foul on the night compared to Arizona’s nine, and The Wildcats were going to be shooting from the line for the rest of the game. Plavsic had firmly established himself as the villain for the Wildcat faithful as he was booed when he entered the game and booed again when he was fouled under the basket as The Vols were doing anything they could to cut into the lead that Arizona had protected since the beginning of the half with great team basketball and timely shots.
The Wildcats continued to play high-to-low and beat Tennessee at the rim as Henri Veesaar found Azuolas Tubelis for his 19th point of the game. Tennessee was shooting 6/17 in the second half after a great shooting performance in the first half. A Vols turnover led to an Arizona three that extended their lead to 10 points with 7:16 to go. After back-to-back threes from Zeigler and Key, The Vols had cut The Wildcat lead to two points. With 5:56 to go, Tennessee had momentum for the first time in the second half. The Vols were able to produce open looks but could not score and the missed opportunities allowed Arizona to rebuild their lead back to six with just under two minutes to go and this was too much for Tennessee to overcome and they left Tucson with a 75-70 loss.
Azuolas Tubelis led Arizona with 19 points. Zakai Zeigler led all scorers with 21 points off the bench.
This is what Tennessee Head Coach, Rick Barnes, had to say post-game (via Ben McKee of GoVols247)
Rick Barnes: We’re a good basketball team. We didn’t play great. We can do better. But we were in a position to win the game in a tough environment.
— Ben McKee (@benmckee14) December 18, 2022
Tennessee’s next game is against Austin Peay at home in Thompson-Boling Arena at 5:00pm on Wednesday.