LEXINGTON (AP) — Andrew Harrison’s only focus was making the most of the opportunities that became more frequent against Tennessee.
The Kentucky freshman point guard definitely did that at the free throw line en route to delivering a career performance.
Harrison scored a season-high 26 points and No. 13 Kentucky used near-perfect free throw shooting to pull away to a 74-66 victory Saturday.
The Wildcats (13-4, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) made 23 of 24 from the line including their first 17 before Aaron Harrison, Andrew’s twin, missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 32 seconds remaining.
The Wildcats had entered the game making 66 percent of their free throws, 63 percent in SEC games.
“When we’re doing that along with (playing) good defense,” it’s going to be tough to beat us,” said Andrew Harrison, who made all 10 of his free throw attempts along with two 3-pointers on 7-of-13 shooting from the field.
What impressed Kentucky coach John Calipari about Andrew Harrison’s effort was his poise and decision-making, which resulted in 16 second-half points thanks to frequent trips to the line.
“We’ve been working really hard on pick-and-roll stuff for him,” Calipari said, “and trying to teach him the pace of the game — how fast you have to go off the screen, how you have to set your man up, how you have to attack the big man. …
“You go up and attack the 5 man (center), and he did a great job. He did good stuff.”
Andrew Harrison added three of Kentucky’s 11 assists and a steal.
“It’s taken me a little time to adjust, but I feel like I’m doing that,” said Andrew Harrison, whose previous scoring high was 18 against Louisville three weeks ago. “It just comes from being in the gym and working hard. … It’s just playing under control when you’re driving, having your head up and seeing the shooters in the corners and just knowing that you don’t have to do it yourself.”
Kentucky provided plenty of help as freshman forward Julius Randle was 5 of 5 from the free throw line and 6 of 9 from the field for 18 points.
Aaron Harrison finished with 14 points including two from beyond the arc to help the Wildcats finish 7 of 16 from 3-point range. He was 6 of 7 from the free throw line.
Jarnell Stokes had 20 points and 15 rebounds for Tennessee, which lost to Kentucky for the 150th time in the series that dates to 1910. Jordan McRae added 17 points and Jeronne Maymon had 12 for the Volunteers.
“I thought we did a great job in the first half and made some plays down the stretch,” Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said, “(but) I think the last three minutes of the first half, they made plays.
“Randle did a great job of putting the team in his back getting to the rim, getting to the line, making free throws. … They (Kentucky) did just enough at the end of the first half to take the lead.”
Kentucky overcame a nine-point first-half deficit to beat the Volunteers (11-6, 2-2) in this season’s lone scheduled meeting between the schools. Trailing 18-9 with 12:16 left in the half, the Wildcats closed with a 25-14 run over the final 11:06 and led by as many as 11 points in the second half.
Kentucky was outrebounded 39-24 by the Vols, who made just 16 of 23 from the free throw line. The Wildcats succeeded in making Tuesday night’s heartbreaking 87-85 overtime loss at Arkansas a distant memory. They also got some payback against the Volunteers after last year’s 30-point loss in Knoxville, Tennessee’s most lopsided win in the series.
Kentucky’s quest appeared difficult early as Stokes seemed primed to beat the Wildcats by himself. He scored the game’s first six points en route to a 12-point, 11-rebound first half that symbolized the Vols’ energetic effort: they outrebounded the Wildcats 23-10 in the first 20 minutes and built a lead that stood for most of the half.
Kentucky still emerged with a 34-32 halftime lead thanks to its run that included a 16-6 spurt over the final 7:06. Randle scored 16 points in the first half and got things going by scoring Kentucky’s first five points including his first 3-pointer this season after seven misses.
The second half belonged to Andrew Harrison and the Wildcats, who shot 46 percent from the field and finished 22 of 50 overall (44 percent). Tennessee finished 24 of 58 (41 percent).