No. 19 Tennessee hands No. 6 Arizona first loss, 77-73

  • Tennessee guard Santiago Vescovi (25) shoots past Arizona guard Pelle Larsson (3) during an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2021, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — No. 19 Tennessee used its experience to get the upper hand on No. 6 Arizona on Wednesday night.

Super senior big man John Fulkerson had 24 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Volunteers to a 77-73 win over the Wildcats.

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“I’d love to see that Fulky every day,” Fulkerson said, referring to himself in the third person. “That’s how the game goes. Just keep being aggressive.”

With an offense based on the perimeter, Tennessee (9-2) took advantage of Arizona’s spread-out defense by finding the 6-foot-9 Fulkerson inside. The Wildcats (11-1) were held 18 points below their season average.

“(Fulkerson) was the best player on the floor,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said. “He drew 13 fouls, that’s almost a record. Our plan was to make him score lots of points and he did.”

“(Fulkerson) came out 30 minutes before everyone else to shoot around,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “He was there last night when I left. He knows it’s his last year.”

Tennessee veterans Santiago Vescovi had 15 points, and Josiah-Jordan James added 12. Auburn transfer Justin Powell scored 11.

Bennedict Mathurin had 14 of his 28 points in the first half. He was the only Arizona starter to score in the first 20 minutes as Tennessee took a 34-21 lead. Kerr Kriisa scored 11 points for Arizona. Wildcat big men Christian Koloko and Azuolas Tubelis combined for just 10 points, all in the second half.

“We weren’t able to get a lot of post touches,” Lloyd said. “At the end of the day, there’s usually one recipe. The recipe is ‘toughen up.’”

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.

“We knew (Arizona) would make a push,” Barnes said. “We knew they’d get back in it.”

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.

“I felt like I couldn’t be stopped,” Fulkerson said. “I give our coaches and teammates a lot of credit for putting me in a position to be successful.”

With the Vols up 71-69, Fulkerson grabbed an offensive rebound, scored and was fouled, putting Tennessee up by four.

BIG PICTURE

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.

UP NEXT

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.

NO. 12 AUBURN 71, MURRAY STATE 58

AUBURN, La. — Wendell Green Jr. and Jabari Smith both had double-doubles and Auburn beat Murray State for its eighth straight win.

Auburn (11-1) held Murray State to 28 points below its season average and out-rebounded the Racers 48-33.

Green had 13 points and a career-best 10 rebounds off the bench for the Tigers. Smith had 12 points and 10 rebounds for his third double-double of the season.

Walker Kessler led the way for Auburn’s defense with a season-high seven blocks, giving him three straight games with at least four rejections. Kessler added 13 points and seven rebounds.

Tevin Brown keyed Murray State (10-2) with 22 points in a return to his home state. The rest of the Racers combined to make 11 of 41 shots from the field.

NO. 13 HOUSTON 80, TEXAS STATE 47

HOUSTON — Josh Carlton scored a season-high 20 points, Kyler Edwards added 14 and Houston defeated Texas State.

Marcus Sasser had 13 points and Jamal Shead finished with 12 points and 10 assists for Houston (11-2).

Houston, which has won 33 straight home games, outrebounded the Bobcats 31-26 and held a 36-16 advantage in the paint.

Shelby Adams scored 10 points, Nighael Ceaser added nine and Isiah Small had eight for Texas State (9-3), which had won eight in a row.

NO. 16 TEXAS 68, ALABAMA STATE 48

AUSTIN, Texas — Dylan Disu scored 14 points and made three blocks and Texas pulled away in the second half to defeat Alabama State.

Marcus Carr scored 13 for Texas, Andrew Jones had 12 and Timmy Allen produced 10 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

Gerald Liddell, a former Longhorn who transferred to Alabama State (1-10) this season, led the Hornets with 16 points. Juan Reyna added 10.

Texas (9-2) and Alabama State were not scheduled to face each other until their original opponents this week experienced COVID-19 issues.

NO. 17 LSU 95, LIPSCOMB 60

BATON ROUGE, La. — Darius Days scored 21 points and LSU stayed unbeaten with a win over Lipscomb.

Xavier Pinson scored a season-high 17 points for the Tigers (12-0), who never trailed. Eric Gaines had a career-high 13 points, Brandon Murray also had 13, Efton Reid had 12, and Mwani Wilkinson scored a season-high 11.

Jacob Ognacevic led the Bisons (6-8) with 12 points. Lipscomb shot 39% from the field and committed 22 turnovers.

Hot outside shooting propelled LSU to a 48-24 halftime lead. The Tigers were 8 of 16 on 3-pointers in the opening 20 minutes. Days knocked down four 3-pointers.

NO. 20 KENTUCKY 95, WESTERN KENTUCKY 60

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kellan Grady made six 3-pointers and scored a season-high 23 points, Oscar Tshiebwe grabbed a Rupp Arena-record 28 rebounds and Kentucky used an 18-2 second-half run to blow out Western Kentucky.

TyTy Washington Jr. added 20 points and Jacob Toppin scored 12 as the Wildcats (9-2) routed their second consecutive substitute opponent.

The in-state Hilltoppers (8-5) were added Monday after the postponement of Kentucky’s scheduled matchup against archrival Louisville because of positive COVID-19 tests within the Cardinals’ program. The Wildcats thumped North Carolina 98-69 on Saturday in Las Vegas.

Josh Anderson scored 18 points and Camron Justice had 13 for WKU, which was coming off an 82-72 victory over Louisville.

NO. 25 TEXAS TECH 78, EASTERN WASHINGTON 46

LUBBOCK, Texas — Kevin Obanor had 11 points, seven rebounds and four assists without a turnover, helping Texas Tech beat Eastern Washington.

Adonis Arms and Bryson Williams each had 12 points for the Red Raiders (9-2), who rebounded from their loss Saturday to fourth-ranked Gonzaga. Kevin McCullar had 10 points and five assists.

The Red Raiders played without starting guard Terrence Shannon, who missed his second game in a row because of back spasms. Guard Mylik Wilson missed his third straight game because of a knee issue.

Rylan Bergersen had 10 points on 3-of-15 shooting for Eastern Washington (6-6), which entered the game with five players averaging double-figure scoring.

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