Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a member and past president of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year 10 times and has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
Like It Is:
Kentucky made poor decisions vs. Hogs
Arkansas' Makhi Mitchell (15) looks for an opening between Kentucky's Cason Wallace, left, and Oscar Tshiebwe (34) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Lexington, Ky., Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023. (AP Photo/James Crisp)
It was a big win, but don’t let expectations get too high too soon.
Arkansas dominated Kentucky in the second half and strolled out of famed Rupp Arena with a resounding 88-73 win, but those are not the once feared Wildcats, and there is one reason.
Don’t know that after 32 years as a college head coach, plus two seasons and part of one in the NBA, if the 63-year-old Calipari has lost some of his drive, but consider what he said after the game:
“Our rim protection was awful. I can’t get the guys to body up and do the stuff. And they did a great job of bodying up.”
This is a team, with three senior starters, that has played 24 games this season and their rim protection was awful because it isn’t being taught or practiced.
Not sure if Coach Cal didn’t watch film of Arkansas, but he played a man-to-man defense for most of the game, and the Razorbacks thanked him by shooting 62.7% from the floor.
Most, if not all, of Arkansas’ losses have come against teams which played a zone defense.
The difference in the physicality was obvious from the start.
Kentucky is a finesse team because the Wildcats are allowed to be, and finesse teams rarely win the big games.
Basketball is a physcial game.
There are no pads or helmets, just body on body and the Razorbacks overpowered the Wildcats on Tuesday night.
They didn’t escape Rupp Arena with a three-point win like South Carolina. Kansas, the defending national champions beat Kentucky at home by 11. The Razorbacks beat them by 15.
The Wildcats on Tuesday were the puppets, and the Razorbacks were the puppeteers.
It may have been Anthony Black’s best game as a Razorback, or at least since they were in Hawaii. He had 19 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals.
Not singling anyone out, because to beat Kentucky in their yard takes a team effort, and five Razorbacks scored in double figures.
Probably the most significant stat of the game was the Razorbacks had 19 assists on 32 field goals. That’s unselfish, mentally tough basketball.
Almost every player for the Hogs had a big play at some time during the game, from steals, blocks, passes, dunks or a three-point shot. The Razorbacks were on the Muss Bus for a 40-minute one-way ride.
Defensively, the Razorbacks wore the Wildcats down with their relentless, in-your-face defense, challenging every shot and never, ever, backing down.
Senior Oscar Tshiebwe, the reigning national player of the year, was leading the nation in rebounds at 13.6 per game, and he got seven against the Hogs. He was limited to just 6 shots, made 3 and finished with 7 points.
He didn’t have an off night. He had double trouble from the Mitchell twins who got help from Jordan Walsh.
One of the big reasons the Razorbacks won the battle on the hardwood was because Eric Musselman was outworking Calipari and outcoaching the man who won the national championship in 2012 but has been back to the Final Four only once since and that was nine years ago.
Musselman has basically settled on his seven-man rotation, and he’s got them playing under control and within their limitations.
He has them playing defense like it is supposed to be played.
The Razorbacks’ confidence took a big jump Tuesday night, a confidence that comes from winning.
Kentucky was favored by 41/2 points and lost by 15. That is not Wildcat basketball.
The old Kentucky doesn’t lose three home SEC games, but the light seems to have dimmed, the attitude mellowed and the heat has been turned down.
This loss was on John Calipari.
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