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Lexington, KY 2-7-23

The ‘Cats entered Tuesday nights matchup versus the Arkansas Razorbacks winners of 6 of their last 7 games with their only loss coming at home to Kansas (77-68) and winning 6 consecutive conference games. On the other side, Arkansas arrived in Lexington winning their last 4 SEC games and accumulating a 16-7 record on the season and 5-5 in conference play. Both teams began the night firmly on the bubble as far as their potential NCAA tournament aspirations are concerned, with Tuesdays matchup serving as an opportunity for the winning team to get off the bubble and place themselves comfortably into the field of 68 with a little under a month remaining in the regular season. The latest NET rankings placed the Razorbacks as the No. 28 team in the country, with the ‘Cats checking in just behind at No. 32. Three guards, Ricky Councel IV (17.0 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 2.4 APG), Anthony Black (12.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.0 APG), and Davonte Davis (11.0 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 2.9 APG) lead the Razorbacks offensive charge on the season. For Kentucky, Oscar Tshiebwe (16.0 PPG, 13.9 RPG), Antonio Reeves (13.1 PPG, 42% from 3PT), Jacob Toppin (12.1 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 2.1 APG), and Cason Wallace (11.0 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 3.3 APG) are the primary offensive weapons. Backup PG Sahvir Wheeler was out for the game with an injured right ankle. Some keys to the game for the ‘Cats included getting off to a fast start, rotations and lineup usage, continued Wallace emergence, Tshiebwe bouncing back after a disappointing display against Florida last Saturday, bench impact, and containing Arkansas’s guards on the defensive end.

The ’Cats starting lineup included Wallace, Frederick, Livingston, Toppin, and Tshiebwe.

Game Recap:

Livingston scored the first points of the game, making 1 of 2 free-throws off a foul from an offensive rebound putback attempt. The Razorbacks responded with a three, though the ‘Cats played exceptional defense throughout the possession, that was lengthened off an offensive rebound. The ‘Cats periodically mixed in a 2-3 zone throughout the first 4 minutes of action. Driving scores by Livingston and Wallace put the ‘Cats in front 5-3, but the Razorbacks answered with an and-one opportunity to even the score at 5 apiece at the under 16-minute media timeout. Tshiebwe found Livingston for another layup through contact. Arkansas hit a three from the edge of the “UK” logo as the shot-clock sounded to put the Razorbacks up 9-7. A pair of Toppin free-throws and a Tsheibwe baseline jumper narrowed the Arkansas lead to 14-13 at the under 12-minute media timeout. Tshiebwe banked home a long jumper that brought the score to 16-15 Arkansas. A strong drive by Wallace put the ‘Cats in front 19-18. Collins enters and hits a long jumper to narrow the Razorbacks lead to 22-21. After Arkansas responds with a dunk, Wallace again drives past Razorback defenders for an and-one opportunity that pushed the score to 24-24 with 7:42 remaining in the half after the made free-throw. Collins responded to an Arkansas dunk caused by a defensive miscue with a slam of his own on the other end to tie the game at 26. A quick Razorbacks run over the course of just a minute pushed their lead to 32-26 with 5:29 to play. Reeves nailed the first Kentucky three of the game to narrow the deficit to 3 at 32-29. Toppin drove for a transition layup after a defensive stop by the ‘Cats to narrow the lead to 1 at 32-31 with 4-minutes to play. Tshiebwe picked up his second foul on a questionable call with 3:38 remaining in the first half. A Toppin floater and a Collins free-throw tied the game at 34 with 2:50 to play. Collins attempted a monstrous dunk that led to a charge call but awoke the Rupp Arena crowd for the loudest stretch of the first half. A Wallace stop-and-pop jumper pushed the ‘Cats in front 38-37. Calipari received a technical with 33-seconds left in the half. The two free-throws pushed the Arkansas lead to 41-38. An eventful final 2-minutes was capped by a deep Collins jumper that brought the score to 41-40 Arkansas at the half. Wallace led all players with a game-high 11-points at the half while mixing in 2-rebounds and 4-assists. Behind Wallace the ‘Cats were led by two surprising scorers in Livingston and Collins each with 7 first half points, with Collins collecting his points in just 6-minutes of action in the half. Davis led the Razorbacks with 9 first half points, followed by Black, Council IV, and Walsh each with 7-points. Each team displayed red-hot shooting in the first half as Arkansas shot 54% from the field and the ‘Cats shot 53%.

The first points of the second half came via a long jumper from Arkansas that brought the score to 43-40 Razorbacks. Arkansas began the half on a quick 6-0 run with the help of two lazy turnovers by the ‘Cats, that brought the score to 47-40 just a minute into the second half. A Livingston three at the top of the key started the scoring for the ‘Cats in the first half and brought the score to 47-43 Arkansas. The ‘Cats then gave up 5 more Arkansas points to stretch their deficit to 9 at 52-43 with 16:41 to play. Big shots by the Freshman in Wallace and Livingston narrow the Arkansas lead to 6 at 54-48 with 13:38 to play. The score sat at 58-50 Arkansas with 11:37 left in the game. An and-one opportunity for Tshiebwe brought the score to 62-57 Arkansas with 10:27 left to play after the made free-throw. A short scoring drought by the ’Cats was ended with a Wallace free-throw that brought the score to 64-58 Arkansas with 8:20 to play. Two quick scores by Arkansas, who were gifted an extra possession on a miscall by the referee, pushed their lead to 10 at 68-58 with just 7:31 remaining in the game. Arkansas hit their next three shot attempts to stretch their lead to 14 at 74-60 with 5-minutes to play. Kentucky’s defense continued to be porous in the second half and allow repeatedly allowed easy Razorbacks baskets as Wallace paced the ‘Cats on offense. The score was 80-68 with 2:07 to play. The final minutes featured a barrage of garbage time buckets by the ‘Cats and free-throws by Arkansas. Arkansas went on to win the game by a score of 88-73. 

Arkansas shot 72% from the field in the second half and 63% in the game (44% from 3PT, 4-9). The ‘Cats held their own on the offensive end with a strong 47% from the field (31% from 3PT, 4-13). The ‘Cats did outrebound the Razorbacks by a count of 31-26. Wallace led all scorers with a game-high 24-points, adding in 3-rebounds and 5-asstits to his stat line. Livingston added 13-points for the ‘Cats in a strong showing. Toppin and Reeves each had 11-points for the ‘Cats. The Razorbacks were led by Council IV with 20-points and Black with 19-points. Toppin led the rebounding effort for the ‘Cats, collecting 8 boards. Wallace was the primary distributor for Kentucky with his 5-assists. No Kentucky player posted a positive (+) plus/minus total in the game. The best total was (-2) from Collins in 8-minutes of action. Tshiebwe followed up arguably his worst game as a ‘Cat against Florida last Saturday (4-points on 2-14 FG) with potentially his second worst outing in a Kentucky uniform. He posted just 7-points and 7-rebounds in 32-minutes on Tuesday night, adding abysmal defense and 3 turnovers to his effort. It was clear that Collins was the superior player in this game but only saw 8 total minutes in the game (2-minutes in the second half). CJ Frederick had a forgettable night, scoring 0-points on 0-4 shooting (0-2 from 3PT) in 20-minutes. Overall, Arkansas came into Rupp Arena and totally outplayed the ‘Cats on their home floor. The first half was a battle, with both teams scrapping and fighting on every possession. That effort and execution just did not continue into the second half for the ‘Cats, as the tone was set after consecutive lazy turnovers that led to easy points and a 6-0 run for the Razorbacks to start the half. The air completely left Rupp Arena after those plays and never really returned for the remainder of the night. This loss will almost certainly keep the ‘Cats squarely on the bubble for the NCAA tournament with every game becoming increasingly important to win. The road win in Lexington likely takes the Razorbacks off the bubble for the coming weeks, barring any unexpected losses.

The ’Cats (16-8, 7-4 SEC) will hit the road and head to Athens for a weekend matchup versus the Georgia Bulldogs (14-10, 4-7 SEC) this Saturday, February 11. The game is scheduled for an early tipoff time of 12:00 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPN.

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