KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Kentucky understands that its brand name often brings out the best efforts from opponents.
The top-ranked Wildcats have answered that challenge well enough to put together the best start in the program's storied history.
Devin Booker had 18 points and seven rebounds Tuesday night as Kentucky picked up its defense in the second half and pulled away for a 66-48 victory over Tennessee. Kentucky is 26-0 for the first time, though the Wildcats finished the 1953-54 season with a 25-0 mark.
"It's like that whether you're the best of Kentucky or you're the worst of Kentucky," Wildcats 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein said. "They're still trying to beat Kentucky, so you have to come out ready to play with them. If not, then they get beer muscles and they think they can play with you. You have to come out ready to swing. Otherwise you're going to get hit in the mouth."
Kentucky (13-0 SEC) took a few punches Tuesday before delivering the knockout blow.
The Wildcats won despite shooting 5 of 22 from 3-point range and allowing the much-smaller Volunteers to match them 34-all in rebounds and outscore them 34-22 in the paint. Tennessee trailed by just four with 9 minutes left before Kentucky went on a 10-0 run to put the game away.
Kentucky has matched the best start for a team coached by John Calipari, who won his first 26 games at Massachusetts in 1995-96 and was 26-0 at Memphis in 2007-08. Both of those squads went on to reach the Final Four, though neither won the national championship.
"Every one of the teams was different," Calipari said. "They're all different. This team is the deepest of the three. The UMass team, I played five or six, my guards played 38 minutes. Totally different. The Memphis team, we were pretty good defensively there, too, but we didn't have the size this team has."
Andrew Harrison scored 14 points and Trey Lyles added 10 for Kentucky. Kevin Punter scored 14 and Josh Richardson had 10 for Tennessee (14-11, 6-7).
After shooting 54.2 percent (13 of 24) in the first half, Tennessee shot just 25 percent (8 of 32) in the second. The Volunteers went 2 for 17 from 3-point range and 4 of 10 on free throws.
"We didn't shoot the ball very well, but all that is a credit to Kentucky because they're a heck of a defensive team," Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall said. "Their length at every position challenges and bothers shots, and it certainly bothered us some tonight."