Watch the Tape: Tennessee Volunteers
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Watch the Tape: Tennessee Volunteers

Article written by:Brandon RamseyBrandon Ramsey


Photo by Jeff Moreland | Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Some film sessions are more fun than others. You would be hard-pressed to find a game more fun to rewatch than this one. On Saturday afternoon the Kentucky Wildcats lit up the scoreboard against the Tennessee Volunteers for a 107-79 blowout victory. The ‘Cats are now 14-3 overall, 4-1 in the Southeastern Conference.

Against an elite defensive team that was allowing just 60.7 points per game, Kentucky scored 52 in the first half to set the tone for the day. They were able to use the Volunteers pressure against them and ended up shooting a ridiculous 67.9% from the field. The Wildcats scored 32 points off of turnovers compared to Tennessee’s 11. It was an all-systems failure for the Vols while the ‘Cats played their best game of the season.

In today’s edition of Watch the Tape, we are going to look at what led to scoring 107 points against the rival Tennessee Volunteers. The return of Sahvir Wheeler, creating offense with the defense, and simply having really good players all played a role. Let’s step inside the film room and relive the 40 minutes of greatness from Saturday afternoon.

Welcome Back, Sahvir Wheeler

Kentucky felt Sahvir Wheeler’s absence when he went down with a neck injury against LSU. However, the ‘Cats didn’t miss a beat without their point guard against Georgia and Vanderbilt. Returning to the floor against the Tennessee Volunteers proved just how valuable Wheeler is to this team. He raises the ceiling offensively, is a game-changer on the ball defensively, and makes everything easier when he is on the floor.

Sahvir Wheeler has a knack for creating easy-scoring opportunities. For a 5’9″ point guard, he shoots a lot of uncontested layups just like this one shown above. He is so dangerous off the dribble with a really quick burst to the rim.

The Tennessee Volunteers like to get out and put pressure in the passing lanes to make it hard to run offense. Kentucky was able to combat that by simply driving the ball hard in a straight line. Sahvir Wheeler was unable to get the ball to Keion Brooks to initiate the offense so he just put his head down and attacked the basket. Blowing by Kennedy Chandler is not easy, but Wheeler’s quick first step and strength got him all the way to the rim.

When you play a team that pressures the ball like Tennessee you need players that can make plays. That is what Kentucky was missing against LSU when Sahvir Wheeler went down. Once again, the ‘Cats were unable to get into their offense, but Wheeler made a play for himself off the dribble. As the saying goes, the Jimmy’s and the Joe’s beat the X’s and the O’s.

Kentucky’s Defense Leads to Offense

On paper, giving up 79 points to an average at best offensive team like the Tennessee Volunteers isn’t great. However, Kentucky is finding a way to use their defense to accentuate their strengths on the offensive end. With the ability to go score 107 points in a game it makes what you do defensively not as important. Now, the ‘Cats can focus on creating turnovers and using their defense to kickstart the offense. The result on Saturday afternoon was 32 points off 20 turnovers by the Volunteers.

TyTy Washington continues to make major strides as an on-ball defender. Sahvir Wheeler is already great at providing ball pressure and now the Wildcats are getting Washington to do the same. Here, the freshman makes Santiago Vescovi pay for going behind his back. Washington gets a hand on the ball, Lance Ware comes to pressure out at half court, and Wheeler grabs the errant pass. This is a perfect example of what Kentucky’s defense can do for their offense.

These are the types of plays that Kentucky can make knowing that the offense will score enough to win games. This is an aggressive play by TyTy Washington to get the tie-up that you wouldn’t find in the scouting report. You would generally never want to leave a three-point shooter like Justin Powell to double-team an average post player like Olivier Nkamhoua.

However, these are the type of aggressive plays that the Wildcats are getting really good at making. Washington isn’t going with the thought of helping or digging the ball out of the post. He is going to steal the basketball. You can make plays like this when you know your offense can cover up a couple of potential aggressive mistakes.

Kentucky is incredibly dangerous in transition and creating live-ball turnovers is a great way to get more transition opportunities. This is excellent ballscreen defense by Lance Ware. He has his hands up to deter the mid-range jumper, and continues to give ground while allowing Davion Mintz to recover to the ball. Keion Brooks tries to steal the crosscourt pass but just misses the deflection. However, he stays in the play by quickly turning around and ends up with a steal. Excellent hustle from Brooks that leads to a Kellan Grady transition three-pointer.

When you get some plays like this you don’t have to spend so much time on the scouting report. TyTy Washington isn’t in very good defensive position on this play. He “should” stay underneath this screen and just meet Santiago Vescovi on the other side close to the scoring area. However, he goes for the back-pick steal and is able to knock the ball loose. Kellan Grady scoops up the loose ball and throws it ahead for a Sahvir Wheeler layup. This is why you always recruit the best players. TyTy Washington is the very definition of a playmaker.

Playmaking Against Pressure

When you play really good defensive teams that like to pressure the ball, you need players that can go make plays. Without Sahvir Wheeler against LSU, and then missing TyTy Washington for a stretch in the second half, the Wildcats simply didn’t have enough playmaking to function against the Tigers. Now, back at full strength, Kentucky put 107 points on the scoreboard against the Tennessee Volunteers. Sometimes the best offense is as simple as giving the ball to really good players and asking them to do the rest.

Kentucky turned to a lot of dribble handoff actions to help combat Tennessee’s pressure defense. In a lot of ways, this isn’t a great shot by TyTy Washington. With 20 seconds on the shot clock, you usually aren’t looking for a contested 15-foot jump shot. However, Washington has proven that it isn’t a bad shot for him. When you score 28 points on 13 shots you get the green light.

These are the plays you have to make against really good defensive teams. When you can attack downhill versus their pressure you have to take some quick shots. Again, this is why you recruit the best players. You need guys like TyTy Washington who can drive it hard, stay under control, and make shots like this.

There wasn’t much happening for Kentucky on this possession. Tennessee was out pressuring the ball and TyTy Washington couldn’t shake his defender at first. However, he rejects the ballscreen to get downhill and is able to create separation with the behind-the-back dribble at the end of his drive. Washington shows off special balance and control in this clip.

We talked prior to the game about the importance of playing off of two at the end of drives against the Tennessee Volunteers. Keion Brooks did just that on this play. Brooks attacked the closeout and was able to get two feet in the paint with a jump stop around the SEC logo. That allowed him to pivot around and let Kellan Grady get open on the perimeter. Brooks hit Grady who knocked in the three-pointer while being fouled. Excellent offensive execution.

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