Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
ARKANSAS VS. NO. 13 KENTUCKY:
Hogs see Blue, aim to rebound
8 p.m. today, Walton Arena, Fayetteville, ESPN
Kentucky's James Young (1) and Andrew Harrison (5) talk in the final minutes of an NCAA college basketball game against Vanderbilt on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. Kentucky won 71-62. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas isn’t going to be 9-0 in SEC home games this season.
No. 7 Florida proved the Razorbacks aren’t invincible in Walton Arena, ending Arkansas’ 23-game home-court winning streak with a come from-behind 84-82 victory in overtime last Saturday.
Arkansas (11-4, 0-2), which opened with a 69-53 loss at Texas A&M, is 0-2 in the SEC for the first time since 2009, but Coach Mike Anderson said winning the program’s first conference title since 1994 remains a goal.
“We’ve got to outrun some people that are in front of us right now,” Anderson said.
Winning the race against Kentucky’s thoroughbreds at 8 tonight at Walton Arena would be a good place to start.
Kentucky (12-3, 2-0) is ranked No. 13 and Coach John Calipari has seven Mc-Donald’s All-Americans, led by freshmen forward Julius Randle, twin guards Aaron and Andrew Harrison and guard James Young.
“As everyone knows around the country, they probably have the most talented team that Calipari has had, and they’re playing ata high level,” Anderson said. “He did a great job getting those players in there.”
Randle, 6-9, is averaging 16.7 points and an SEC-leading 10.0 rebounds.
“Randle’s a very skilled guy,” Anderson said. “People look at his power, but I think he’s putting that power with skills as well. He’s a beast.”
Calipari said Randle is drawing the kind of defensive attention as Shaquille O’Neal did when he played for LSU.
“He’s not Shaq, but that’s how everybody plays him,” Calipari said. “When he catches it, he literally has three guys on him - the guy guarding him, and the two nearest guys crowd him.
“If he’s driving, they collapse all five. If it’s in the post, they’re collapsing two guys on him. We’re trying to get him to if he feels a quick trap, get rid of it.”
The Wildcats opened SEC play with an 85-63 home victory over Mississippi State, then won at Vanderbilt 71-62.
“They’re starting to figure each other out as a team, and that’s a dangerous thing,” Mississippi State Coach Rick Ray said. “I don’t think there’s anybody in our league that can match their individual talent.”
The Razorbacks haven’t lost back-to-back games at Walton Arena since 2011-2012, when they closed their home schedule with losses to Florida, Alabama and Ole Miss.
“It’s hard losing two games in a row, but we’ll bounce back, we’ll fix it,” said junior guard Ky Madden, who led Arkansas with 23 points against Florida. “Every loss has got to hurt until midnight.
“At midnight, it’s on the next day and the next game.”
Anderson said he has no doubt about the Razorbacks’ ability to put the Florida loss behind them and focus on Kentucky.
“I think our guys will be ready to play,” Anderson said. “I really, really do.”
Arkansas beat Kentucky 73-60 at Walton Arena last season.
“They always play well against us,” Calipari said.
Anderson said there has been an emphasis on “embracing the small things” in practice since the Florida game, little stuff like getting more loose balls and deflections or passing the ball back to the perimeter after a rebound if a good shooting opportunity isn’t there.
“Learn to win,” Anderson said. “Learn how to close.”
Calipari said the Wildcats need to be strong physically and mentally to withstand the Razorbacks’ attacks on defense and offense.
“If you’re timid in any way, they’ll overrun you,” Calipari said. “That’s how they play. You’ll have opportunities, and they’ll make crazy shots. You just have to keep playing.”
Kentucky is strong physically, led by Randle, 7-foot sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein and 6-8 sophomore Alex Poythress. The Wildcats are outrebounding opponents by 12.7 per game.
“We’ve got to battle them on the boards,” Anderson said. “They dribble in there and they throw up lobs. Guys 3-4 feet above the rim and dunking it, so we’ve got to make sure we put bodies on bodies.”
The main focus, Anderson said, is on protecting the home floor and washing away the bad taste of the Florida loss, not worrying about a two-game road trip that follows tonight’s game.
“We’re just going to make the best of it,” Arkansas senior forward Coty Clarke said. “We’ve got to get back in the race.”
Sports, Pages 17 on 01/14/2014