Vols take down No. 1 Alabama, 68-59

Published 2:20 pm Thursday, February 16, 2023

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Behind a dominant defensive effort and a second-half scoring run, the 10th-ranked Tennessee Volunteers bested No. 1 Alabama, 68-59, Wednesday night at Thompson-Boling Arena.

The Vols (20-6, 9-4 SEC) earned their sixth win over The Associated Press No. 1 team in program history and its second win over the top-ranked team at Thompson-Boling Arena. The victory also marked UT’s second top-five win of the year after defeating No. 3 Kansas at the Battle 4 Atlantis in November. For head coach Rick Barnes, he has now toppled 10 top-five opponents at the helm of the Vols, including the last five tries in a row.

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Sophomore Jonas Aidoo was fantastic for Tennessee, recording his first career double-double and providing a spark in his second rotation of the second half. After coming back on the court, Aidoo drained both of his shots, secured three rebounds and stuffed Noah Clowney at the rim with 8:18 on the clock, leading to two points on the other end which helped the Vols finish off an 11-3 run in the middle of the period that provided the distance UT needed to win. For the game, the sophomore had 12 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks.

Offensively, Zakai Zeigler and Santiago Vescovi led the way in scoring, each tallying 15 points. Both did so in near identical ways, as they both made three 3-pointers, four free throws and a field goal. Zeigler was spotless in spreading the rock, dishing out eight assists without committing a turnover. Vescovi, on the other hand, made noise on the glass, tying his season-high in rebounds with eight.

Tennessee and Alabama traded blows for nearly the entirety of the game. After going into the half tied at 29, the Big Orange began the second half with a bang, drawing up an alley-oop from Zeigler to Olivier Nkamhoua just eight seconds into the period. The jam brought the sold-out crowd to its feet early, energizing the 21,678 fans in attendance to feed the floor for the coming run.

Alabama knotted the game at 40 with 14:09 left in the game, but once Tennessee kicked off its aforementioned 11-3 run, it never looked back. After the Vols built a lead as large as nine, the Tide were unable to threaten again, as Vescovi, Zeigler and Aidoo were quick to stop any Bama momentum, hitting a layup or knocking down a clutch free throw.

The suffocating defense was on display from the jump, as Tennessee pressured Alabama for the entire 40 minutes. In the first half alone, UT had seven steals while conceding only four turnovers. The Big Orange outscored Alabama 17-0 in points off turnovers in the first half and finished the night with a 26-2 margin. In total, the Vols forced Alabama to turn the ball over 19 times, stealing 11 of those, while giving away just eight turnovers themselves.

For the game, Alabama made just 17 field goals, its fewest of the season. The team shot 35.4 percent, its second-lowest percentage of the season, and National Player of the Year candidate Brandon Miller was held to just four made baskets on 11 attempts—largely thanks to the relentless defense of Vols sophomore Jahmai Mashack, who pestered and frustrated the projected NBA Lottery Pick throughout the game.

Wednesday’s victory over No. 1 Alabama marked Tennessee’s sixth all-time win over an AP No. 1 ranked team.

Along with a 76-73 win over No. 1 Gonzaga on Dec. 9, 2018, Tennessee has now won two straight games against top-ranked teams. The Vols are also now 2-1 against top-ranked teams in Thompson-Boling Arena, with the other win coming over No. 1 Kansas on Jan. 10, 2010.

With Wednesday’s win over top-ranked Alabama, Tennessee has now won five straight games over AP top-five opponents.

The Vols defeated No. 4 Kentucky, No. 3 Auburn and No. 5 Kentucky (SEC Tournament) last season before taking down No. 3 Kansas and No. 1 Alabama this season. Not included in that streak is a 99-80 exhibition win over No. 2 Gonzaga on Oct. 28 in Frisco, Texas.

Wednesday’s victory marked Tennessee’s 10th win over a top-five opponent during the Rick Barnes era.

Tennessee hits the road, taking on Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky, Saturday at Rupp Arena. The game tips off at 1 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on CBS.