Nerlens Noel and Ryan Harrow each added 12 points and Alex Poythress 10 while Julius Mays contributed consecutive 3-pointers 1:48 apart late in the game to help the Wildcats (11-5, 2-1).
Jordan McRae’s 23 points led Tennessee (8-7), which lost its fourth straight and is 0-3 in the SEC for the first time in 15 years.
The game featured nine ties and 12 lead changes and Tennessee didn’t blink despite trailing twice by eight in the second half. Trailing 47-39, the Volunteers went on a 15-6 run for a 54-53 lead with 7:19 remaining.
Kentucky outscored Tennessee 11-4 over the next 3 minutes, with Mays dropping back-to-back 3-pointers for a 64-58 lead with 4:20 left. Wiltjer scored the next five points to give the Wildcats a 69-62 lead with 1:37 left.
Wiltjer finished in double figures after going scoreless in Saturday’s loss to Texas A&M. He was 6 of 10 from the field, including two 3-pointers, but it was his five points down the stretch that gave Kentucky some breathing room.
After recording 15 points, 11 rebounds, seven blocks, six assists and four steals against the Aggies, Noel followed up with nine rebounds, six blocks and four steals to help Kentucky win a seesaw game.
The Wildcats won it with 13-of-20 shooting in the second half (65 percent) to finish 49 percent (25 of 51) overall. Defensively, Kentucky held Tennessee to 11 of 29 shooting (38 percent) in the second half and 46 percent (25 of 54) overall.
Though the Volunteers didn’t get the jump on the Wildcats they hoped, they got an early edge in a back-and-forth game. McRae helped get Tennessee going inside and outside, lofting one shot over the 6-foot-10 Noel along with a layup while adding a couple of jumpers to provide a 19-17 lead.
That created some anxiety from the Rupp Arena crowd of 24,033, but Wiltjer’s shooting, especially from beyond the arc, helped Kentucky rally for the lead. That was significant after Saturday’s drought against Texas A&M and especially since he came out firing, hitting 4 of 6 from the field, including two from beyond the arc.
Wiltjer finished the first half with a team-high 10 points, including five during an 8-0 run for a 25-19 Kentucky lead. Tennessee answered to briefly lead twice more late in the half before Archie Goodwin scored the Wildcats’ final six points on four free throws and a floater for a 34-31 halftime lead.
McRae’s 11 points led the Volunteers, who shot 14 of 25 from the field in the first half.
Kentucky started the second half with an 11-6 run for its biggest lead at 45-37, but Tennessee’s 10-2 run, including McRae’s two baskets, tied the game.
Noel scored four of Kentucky’s next six points while contributing a couple of blocks — including a swat of McRae’s attempted layup with 8:23 remaining that brought a yell from the 6-10 freshman and a cheer from the crowd.