By: Tyrus York – Facing overtime for the second game in a row and for the second time against Arkansas (19-9, 8-7) this season, the #17/15 Kentucky Wildcats (21-7, 11-4) came up on the losing end, falling to the Razorbacks again, 71-67.
To be quite honest, Arkansas more than deserved to win the game. Kentucky trailed for most of the contest before rallying on defense to turn a 14 point deficit into a 5 point lead late in the second half.
But Arkansas steadied and Kentucky went back to their old habits to fall short in the overtime.
When Kentucky loses, there seems to be one thing in common: disjointed or inconsistent guard play. The majority of the Kentucky offense on Thursday seemed to consist of a guard driving the lane for a contested layup. We’ve seen this work well in the past, but Arkansas was clearly expecting it and guarded it to near perfection for most of the game.
The obvious advantage for Kentucky was in the paint. The Razorbacks had no answer for Willie Cauley-Stein who went for a double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Julius Randle was also a presence in the paint, gathering his own double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Kentucky outscored the Razorbacks 42-20 in the paint and out-rebounded the Hogs 47-38. So what went wrong?
The rest of the team is what went wrong. Andrew Harrison ended up with 14 points, but that was on 5-15 shooting from the field. He would also record 3 assists, but they were negated by three turnovers.
Aaron Harrison had 8 points, but that was on 2-12 shooting. His only makes from the field were a pair of threes. Aaron coughed the ball up 4 times and recorded 0 assists.
James Young wasn’t much better although he did contribute 11 points he also turned the ball over 4 times to 3 assists. His 4-12 shooting from the floor was the best of bunch.
The Wildcats as a team shot the ball at a 34.2% clip while Arkansas was slightly warmer at 41.4%.
The defense of Kentucky through a stretch late in the second half was the only bright spot for the Cats. It gave incredible life to a Rupp Arena crowd that was desperately trying to will their team to victory, but it simply wasn’t enough.
Coach Cal contributed fatigue down the stretch as a main factor, which was maybe obvious when the team put up one of their worst performances of the season on the free throw line shooting 54.5% going 12-22. Arkansas meanwhile was perfect from the line shooting 16-16. Coincidentally that was the difference of game.
The win by Arkansas puts them back in the conversation for the NCAA Tournament, while the loss will likely knock Kentucky farther down the line in seeding.
It’s a short turnaround for Kentucky as they travel to Columbia, South Carolina to take on a pesky Gamecocks squad that is all but out of any post season consideration. It will be a tough mental test Saturday for the Cats to see if they can get it back together before the final week of the regular season.
Kentucky and South Carolina tip off at 6 pm Saturday on ESPN.