Glaring numbers tell tale of Hogs' loss to UK

Kentucky forward Chris Livingston (24) blocks a shot by Arkansas guard/forward Jordan Walsh (13), Saturday, March 4, 2023, during the second half of the Razorbacks’ 88-79 loss to the Wildcats at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE — A few glaring figures told the tale of Arkansas’ 88-79 loss to No. 23 Kentucky during the regular-season finale Saturday at Bud Walton Arena.

Chief among them is 37 — the point total for Wildcats guard Antonio Reeves, who stepped up in a big way for Kentucky coach John Calipari in the absence of star freshman guard Cason Wallace, who traveled but did not play due to an ankle injury suffered during Wednesday’s loss against Vanderbilt.

Reeves, a 6-5 shooting guard who transferred from Illinois State, burned the Razorbacks at all three levels of the floor and turned in a 12-of-17 shooting effort. He was also 11 of 11 at the free-throw line.

His 37 points were the most against an Eric Musselman-coached college team. The previous high was 33 points on four occasions while Musselman coached at Nevada.

Two of four 30-plus point games against the Razorbacks under Musselman came against the Wildcats in Fayetteville. Oscar Tshiebwe scored 30 against Arkansas when Kentucky lost at Bud Walton Arena last year. 

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“He played as good as any player I've seen since I've been coaching here at Arkansas, and I can't remember anybody in the Mountain West that did that to one of our teams with that percentage,” Musselman said. “He played phenomenal, and (Wallace and point guard Sahvir Wheeler) did not play. They put the ball in his hands. He made great decisions and missed five shots.

“The productivity for Reeves, I mean, how many guys score 37 points on 17 shots? It doesn't happen.”

Reeves buoyed the Wildcats’ offense prior to halftime with 15 points, then he added 22 after the break on 7 of 10 from the floor. To begin the second half, he scored 11 straight points.

A bonus for Kentucky was that he only committed one turnover. 

“I thought they did a really good job of setting screens for him,” Musselman said. “Their dribble-handoff game really bothered us in the first half. And they were physical setting the screens, much like Tennessee was (earlier in the week).

“The DHO game hurt us. I thought he came off with great speed off the dribble-handoffs.”

Also of great concern for the Razorbacks was their inability to finish at the rim. According to StatBroadcast, Arkansas missed 18 of 20 layups.

Saturday marked the third consecutive game in which the Razorbacks shot 40% or below on two-point field goal attempts. They were 18 of 48 on all shots inside the arc against Kentucky.

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“Super frustrating. We’ve just got to come in and work on our games,” Arkansas freshman guard Nick Smith said. “A lot of rushed shots. I don’t know. We’ve missed a lot of easy ones. We’ve just got to make the simple play, get the basket.”

StatBroadcast shows Arkansas missed its final 15 layup attempts, including all 14 tries in the second half. The last made layup came at the 4:01 mark in the first half courtesy of Davonte Davis, who was ejected early in the second half.

Makhel Mitchell was 0 of 5 on layups; Anthony Black was 1 of 5; Davis was 1 of 1; and Ricky Council, Jordan Walsh and Smith were 0 of 3.

Musselman said physicality, and the experience of opposing teams and lack thereof for the Razorbacks, has been an issue for his group of late against some of the SEC’s top teams. He added that in the first half Kentucky grabbed 8 of 10 available loose balls.

“They've got good length. We didn't finish around the rim,” Musselman said. “I thought they played pretty desperately coming off a loss. There was a lid on the rim. That's what happened.”

Additionally, Arkansas did itself no favors at the free-throw line. The Razorbacks finished 22 of 34 at the line, including 16 of 25 in the second half.

“Free throws have been a huge concern in tight games, in big games,” Musselman said. “We’ll continue to try to work on it in pressure situations, but that’s been a big concern, for sure.”

According to KenPom data, the Razorbacks rank 286th nationally with a free-throw percentage of 69%. It is the worst mark for a Musselman team at Nevada or Arkansas.