Like it is:

UK freshmen not fabulous but getting there

By: Wally Hall
Published: Thursday, February 22, 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 -- Seconds after Daryl Macon buried a three to send the game to intermission tied at 43-43, our man Bob Holt turned around, put his elbows on the work space and asked: "What do you think?"

For 30 minutes the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville was nip and tuck with the Kentucky Wildcats, who were not looking like a team that has struggled this season.

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They looked, well, like the dominating Wildcats of most years.

Despite all the effort, including second and third by the Hogs, it seemed whenever the Wildcats wanted a rebound they got a rebound.

When the team that shoots about 33 percent from behind the arc wanted a three-pointer, it got it. In fact, Kentucky made 38 percent of its threes Tuesday.

When John Calipari needed fresh legs, he got fresh legs. Kentucky's bench outscored the Arkansas bench 38-6, a dominating, game-changing statistic.

After the game, a longtime Razorback fan shook her head slightly and said, "They were the best team tonight."

Yep, and they might be nine out of 10 times.

One area the Hogs couldn't really control was that the Wildcats made 17 of 20 free throws, which is 85 percent for a team that was making less than 70 percent. There is no such thing as better free-throw defense.

The referees were not factor in this game. Arkansas shot 18 free throws and made 13.

Admittedly, with six Razorback seniors and playing at home, it seemed the Hogs had a better than average chance to knock off Kentucky, who had just ended a four-game losing skid with a victory over Alabama.

And they were right there for most of the game.

With 10:25 to play, Macon hit a layup to cut the Wildcats lead to 68-65.

Fast forward and the Wildcats outscored the Razorbacks 19-7 in the final 10 minutes. Every time the Wildcats' freshmen wanted to be freshmen, Calipari called a new play. By then, Mike Anderson was trying to sub in fresh legs.

Before the game, Jerry Tipton -- a U.S. Basketball Writers Association Hall-of-Famer who covers the Wildcats for the Lexington Herald-Leader -- was asked what was wrong with Kentucky, who had lost nine games and seven in SEC play.

"They are just young," he said. "That's it. They have skill and talent, but are young."

It was surprising that the Kentucky freshmen outscored Arkansas' seniors 80-61.

Yes, they dominated most of the stats: points in the paint, 38-26, and points off turnovers, 15-9. Then there were all those bench points.

No, putting Macon back on the bench to pad that statistic isn't a good idea. The senior from Little Rock led all scorers with 26 points, and every point seemed critical.

Anton Beard seemed to have the most complete game for the Hogs, scoring 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting with 5 assists and a couple of key boards. Dustin Thomas was solid too, getting six points and 10 boards, although he was in foul trouble most of the time.

Jaylen Barford struggled most of the game (4 of 16 from the floor), and freshman center Daniel Gafford battled hard and came away with enough lessons to play more like a junior in the future. Too many times he was one-on-three in the paint.

To close out the latest chapter in what will remain one of the SEC's great basketball rivalries, the Hogs must have very short memories. Put this one behind them and get ready to play at Alabama. It has been stressed all season that they are only as good as their defense.

Kentucky must remember everything it did and improve on it if the Wildcats are going to bring another banner home to Rupp Arena.

Sports on 02/22/2018

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