Kentucky looked great coming out of the gate. Willie Cauley-Stein scored two quick buckets and made a big block in the opening two minutes. From there, the Cats took an 11-4 lead and sucked the life out of Bud Walton Arena. We knew the first few minutes of the game would be key, and with that in mind, it was lining up to be a fun day in Fayetteville for Kentucky basketball.
But the fun didn’t last long.
After an enjoyable five minutes of basketball, the final 35 minutes were painful to watch. The Cats were outworked and out-hustled on both ends of the floor as Arkansas cruised to a 73-60 victory, its 14th consecutive win at home.
In his postgame radio interview, Calipari said, “My teams have always fought and had a battle mentality. Right now, I am having to play guys that don’t battle.”
And there wasn’t much battle in the guys he had to play against Arkansas.
All eyes were on Archie Goodwin in his return home to Arkansas to face the school he shunned for greener pastures and better basketball, so he thought, in Kentucky. The pride of Little Rock brought his entire family to the game — he used his teammates’ ticket allotment to get everyone in — and he was excited to put on a show for his biggest fans, and the haters, in his home state. Unfortunately, it was a long afternoon for Archie in Bud Walton, but not for lack of effort. He fought hard in Kentucky’s loss and led the team in scoring with 14 points, despite a never-ending storm of heckling from the home crowd. While Razorbacks fans chanted “Archie sucks!” and “You-are-sel-fish!” toward the young guard, he continued to battle to try to keep his team alive. Afterward, he downplayed the taunting from fans, saying, “I’m not from here. I’m from Little Rock. Everybody in Little Rock loves me.” But still, even with his positive attitude in the hostile environment, Archie’s hustle and fight weren’t enough to get his team the W in a game he expected to win. “I thought we jumped that wall and would be able to run through the rest of these teams,” he told reporters after the game. That wasn’t the case.
While a lot of Kentucky basketball fans will try to pull the Doug Shows card on this one, the blame shouldn’t be tossed out past the Kentucky players. Yes, there were plenty of calls to be upset over, but officiating didn’t dictate the outcome of the game. Kentucky lacked the toughness and effort it takes to win on the road in the SEC, especially at Arkansas where the Razorbacks are undefeated in conference play, and it was clear that Mike Anderson’s squad wanted it more, similar to how UK played Missouri last Saturday. Coach Cal said his team never turned on the fight and some players were overwhelmed by the pressure. “That disappointed me,” he added.
We can talk all night about what went wrong, but two stats tell the entire story: Kentucky turned the ball over 17 times and allowed 19 offensive rebounds. It also didn’t help that UK went 3-for-14 from beyond the three-point line. It’d be nearly impossible for any team in America to win a game with those numbers. Those are brutal statistics.
Kentucky actually shot the ball pretty well from inside the arc, the problem is the Cats weren’t getting enough shots off. The offense was out of sync throughout most of the game and there was a 12 minute stretch to start the second half when Kentucky had seven turnovers to eight field goal attempts. Kentucky somehow managed to finish with a much better percentage from the field than its opponent — 46.5% to 34.8% — but Arkansas killed the Cats with second chance baskets and points off turnovers.
Try this one on…
Points Off Turnovers
That’s ugly, folks. That’s really ugly.
Remember when we thought Alex Poythress turned the corner for good? I think it was said, like, four hours ago. Yeah, that’s false. Poythress continued his streak of disappearing on the road with another mediocre outing today. After the game, Willie Cauley-Stein said everyone had energy in the three previous games, but some people didn’t show up with that energy today. It’s safe to assume Alex Poythress is one of the “some people” Willie was referring to. Poythress, though perfect from the field, didn’t bring it against Arkansas. He showed flashes at times, but if we want flashes, we’ll go back and watch the 2012 national title celebrations on State Street. We need to see dominance from Alex Poythress and he has it deep down in him somewhere. We think.
Willie Cauley-Stein recorded his first double-double in SEC play with 13 points and 10 rebounds. He’s also the reason there is a lot of dry wall to be repaired in the state of Kentucky after the way he turned the ball over and missed free throw after free throw when UK needed any points it could get. And I don’t blame Willie for that, either. Kentucky continued to feed him the ball in the post when he hasn’t proven to anyone that he can score with his back to the rim. Willie has been great defensively and on the boards since Nerlens’ injury, but even he knows he’s not a scorer. But, for whatever reason, Kentucky’s guards forced it to him in the paint like he was Hakeem Olajuwon setting up for the Dream Shake. That’s not Willie’s game, and it showed.
It’s hard to be critical of Julius Mays after the way he’s carried the team lately, but, man, he was ice cold from downtown. Uncle Julius missed a lot of wide open three-pointers at crucial moments in the game, which is very uncharacteristic of him. Those are the shots he’s knocked down all year but he didn’t have it today. He finished the game with only one made three-pointer on 1-of-6 shooting from deep and 1-for-8 overall. It just wasn’t his day.
Ryan Harrow reverted backwards just a little bit at the point guard spot but he still played better than the Ryan Harrow of January. Harrow and the rest of the UK backcourt were bothered by Arkansas’ pressure and never got it going offensively. They struggled to bring the ball up the court and were outplayed and outworked by the Razorbacks’ guards. It wasn’t the day UK needed from Ryan Harrow, but I’m still stoked over the way he’s played since demanding to start against Vanderbilt, so, like Uncle Julius, let’s chalk it up as a bad day. It’ll be interesting to see how he responds at Georgia, the state where he earned the 2010 Gatorade Player of the Year honors in high school, in a game Kentucky has to win.
Kyle Wiltjer was held to five quiet points so he’s now averaging 4.5 points in the last four games. Come home, Kyle. We miss you. Show us your three-goggles again.
Although Kentucky’s loss has everyone of us bummed out this Saturday evening, there were two pieces of good news from around the conference. Alabama lost to Florida and Ole Miss lost to Mississippi State. Yes, Ole Miss, the team that at one time looked poised to contend for the conference title, lost to Mississippi State, the team of replacements we just saw in Rupp Arena. You can now exit the bubble, Rebels. Tennessee also lost to Georgia, therefore Kentucky doesn’t lose any ground in the race for the two seed in Nashville.
Just a little silver lining for you, I guess.