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Cats leave Razorbacks scratching their heads

By: Wally Hall
Published: Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Arkansas lost 87-72 to Kentucky Tuesday Feb. 20, 2018 at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Photo by J.T. Wampler
Arkansas lost 87-72 to Kentucky Tuesday Feb. 20, 2018 at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- On a cold, rainy night with a winter forecast looming, a loud crowd came early and wanted to stay late, but the SEC showdown lasted only 30 minutes. Kentucky dominated the final 10 minutes.

The game was the talk of the day on radio and TV, as it should be, and no one could have left Bud Walton not wondering how the Wildcats had lost seven conference games. They are quick, talented and confident.

The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville simply ran into a team that looked like it is peaking. A team that came out timid and then roared like a team accustomed to scratching and clawing its way to victory.

Kentucky started four freshmen and Arkansas four seniors, but it didn't show on the floor where the taller Wildcats controlled the boards, the tempo and the game for an 87-72 win.

With 11:24 to play, the Cats made a 9-0 run to take a 65-61 lead, and it wasn't looking good for the home team that was giving up too many back doors and taking quick shots on offense rather than making the Wildcats work on defense.

When UK stretched its lead to 72-65 with 9:30 to play, Mike Anderson put all his starters back in. That resulted in two bad shots and a worse turnover, then throw in back-to-back three-pointers for a team that doesn't shoot many threes and it was 78-65.

With just over 4:40 to play Kentucky inbounded the ball to no one, Arkansas grabbed the gift and came away with nothing. The aisles began to fill with early exits.

Arkansas went 7:50 without a field goal, lucky to get three free throws by Daryl Macon, and trailed 83-70 when Dustin Thomas broke the drought with a basket.

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The Wildcats outrebounded the home team 46-29, which will no doubt spark the tireless questions about why the Razorbacks are not blocking out. The answer is still the same: They just don't and most likely never will because the belief is it keeps them from fast-breaking.

Arkansas opened the game so fast and so hard, jumping to an 11-0 lead, that it was like the Hogs flicked off the defensive switch and were going to win with offense. It was furious enough that John Calipari took a timeout 1:10 into the game, and almost immediately the momentum began to change.

Kentucky started like it had stood out in the near-freezing rain with the zealous fans waiting on the doors to finally open at 6:30 p.m.

With the Hogs beating the blue blood out of Kentucky with defense, the Cats started 0 of 6 from the floor, but when they started getting open looks they were able to tie it 20-20. It stayed close with four consecutive lead changes in the last four minutes, then Anton Beard hit back-to-back threes and the Razorbacks jumped in front 40-35 with 2:19 to play in the first half.

Kentucky, quicker than a grasshopper on a greased hot skillet, pounded back and tied it at 40-40 before taking a 43-40 lead after a Beard turnover led to a three-point play by P.J. Washington with 18 seconds to play.

Macon calmly dribbled up the left side of the court and buried his fourth three of the half with time running out to tie it 43-43 at the half.

The big difference in the first half, besides the Hogs' letdowns on defense, was the Wildcats got 27 points from their bench and the Hogs scored only six. Uncharacteristically, the Razorbacks had only five points off turnovers and didn't get their first off a Kentucky mistake until there was 8:11 to go in the half.

The Wildcats also had five points off turnovers.

Sports on 02/21/2018

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