Hogs take positives from loss to 'Cats

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Thursday, February 28, 2019
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson shouts to his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Kentucky in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/James Crisp)
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson shouts to his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Kentucky in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/James Crisp)

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- The Arkansas Razorbacks' 70-66 loss at No. 4 Kentucky on Tuesday did not stop the bleeding of the team's lengthy losing streak.

But it did apply a tourniquet -- and maybe a spark of hope -- heading into Saturday's 25th-year celebration of the University of Arkansas' 1994 national championship and a game against Ole Miss.

"That's what I've been looking for," Coach Mike Anderson said. "Without a doubt, that's the team I've been looking for. They came in and played with their heart. I thought they played for each other."

If not for a couple of plays in the final two seconds that both went Kentucky's way, the Razorbacks might have gotten a final possession to tie or take the lead while trailing 68-66.

A review of an out-of-bounds call stayed with the Wildcats with two seconds left after being ruled that way initially by referee Brian O'Connell.

Then O'Connell did not see or call a stiff arm to the neck area of Arkansas guard Isaiah Joe by Kentucky's Tyler Herro on the subsequent inbound play. The Wildcats' Immanuel Quickley hit two free throws to ice the game with 1.3 seconds remaining.

The freshman Joe talked up the Razorbacks' first half, in which Arkansas held a 12-1 advantage in forced turnovers, a 14-2 scoring edge off turnovers, and shot 5 of 10 from three-point range to lead 39-28.

"That was probably one of our better halves of the season," Joe said. "We've just got to play like that every game. If we would have played that same way in the second half, I feel like this game would've been ours.

"If we can put two halves like that together, we'll be a strong force."

Guard Desi Sills, who scored a career-high 15 points on 4-of-8 shooting and 4 of 4 free throws in his second start, concurred.

"If we come in the same place we did in the first half and come with a chip on our shoulders ... play aggressive and lock up on defense and it leads to offense, we'll be just fine," Sills said.

The Razorbacks lost their sixth consecutive game, the most for the program in nearly nine years, but the effort and intensity were clearly better than in consecutive losses to Mississippi State, Auburn and Texas A&M that preceded the game in Rupp Arena.

Arkansas mixed defenses, getting a lot of mileage out of a matchup zone in the first half. The Razorbacks did a good job of neutralizing Kentucky's collection of dribble penetrators and tried to smother forward PJ Washington, who had averaged 21 points in the previous 10 games. Washington managed nine points on 2-of-7 shooting and 6 rebounds.

Kentucky Coach John Calipari could not fathom the Wildcats' lack of offensive creativity in the first half.

"We looked like we've never played against a zone," Calipari said. "We were passing and shooting the ball with four seconds left. I couldn't get them to drive the ball."

On the other side of the court, Calipari was aghast at his team's lack of pressure.

"They're out there playing against the Washington Generals," Calipari said. "They're moving it and doing whatever they wanted. Passing it and getting it to whoever they want to give it to. They had one turnover. I've never heard of that, at least against one of my teams."

Calipari was very complimentary of the pluck Arkansas showed to lead 39-28 at halftime and by as many as 15 points, 45-30, early in the second half.

"We fought in the second half and did enough to win the game, but you've got to give them credit," Calipari said of the Hogs. "They came in here and played. They also defended, they also fought. They drove the ball, they went to the rim. We just happened to make a run in the second half and beat them, but they deserved to win this game. But I'm happy for my team."

Calipari also thanked the Rupp Arena crowd of 21,998 for aiding in the Wildcats' comeback.

"The crowd got into the game and really helped us," he said. "Thank goodness we were at home. If we were on the road, they probably would have beat us by 25."

Anderson was asked whether he felt confident that the Razorbacks could take the effort from Rupp Arena into the championship celebration Saturday.

"I don't think just Saturday," he said. "I think from here on out. I saw a glimpse of it in practice the other day.

"And like I say, they've had periods where they have played like this, but we're talking about consistency, and obviously in an arena of this magnitude it's good to see our guys step up and play at the level that I think they're capable of playing."

Joe liked the grit the Razorbacks showed.

"If we can take this forward into the Ole Miss game, we'd have a great shot at beating them," Joe said. "They got us at their place and now we're at our place. We've got our crowd behind us, and if we bring that same intensity, we'll be hard to stop."

Saturday’s basketball

OLE MISS AT ARKANSAS

WHEN Noon

WHERE Walton Arena, Fayetteville

RECORDS Ole Miss 19-9, 9-6 SEC; Arkansas 14-14, 5-10

TV SEC Network

Sports on 02/28/2019

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