For a moment the ball appeared to finally bounce Kentucky’s way. Even after a go-ahead three-pointer in the final seconds, luck was not on the Wildcats’ side. UK dropped to 5-13, 4-7 in the SEC, after Arkansas’ 81-80 win at Rupp Arena, their first in Lexington since 2014.
After a slow shooting start and a seemingly uninspired performance, the Cats got a little life late in the second half. Two calls that went against Isaiah Jackson served as huge momentum swings.
Early in the second half a lob was directed to the athletic power forward. Grabbed by an Arkansas defender, he still somehow fought through the contact to make an improbable tip-in. If he made the free throw, the ‘and one’ would have cut the Arkansas lead to four. Instead, the call was ruled on the floor. The possession resulted in a B.J. Boston turnover that turned into an Arkansas ‘and one,’ extending the Razorbacks’ run to 11-0 and giving them a 10-point lead.
Another questionable call actually lifted the lackadaisical Cats late in the game. After he was called for a reach-in foul, the power forward was animated. Even though he did not direct his grievance right to the official’s face, Jackson received a technical foul. Arkansas hit the following free throws, but it ticked off his Kentucky teammates, sparking an 8-0 run that got UK within four just before the crucial final four-minute stretch.
Olivier Sarr played big by not playing big in the paint. He used his long-range shooting ability to knock down three three-pointers, scoring 11 of his 13 points in the final eight minutes to give Kentucky a much-needed lift offensively. With about 40 seconds remaining he drew a double team in the post and found B.J. Boston open for a three from the wing that closed the gap to 78-77.
Arkansas missed the first free throw on the ensuing possession, leaving the door open for Kentucky. Davion Mintz delivered, drilling a three-pointer from the wing to give the Cats an 80-79 lead. It looked like the game-winner the BBN had been waiting for. That feeling of hope was quickly erased.
Arkansas got one more look, a missed contested shot off the glass. On the offensive rebound, Jacob Toppin appeared to block the shot, but officials intervened, calling a foul and sending Jalen Tate to the free throw line. The Northern Kentucky grad transfer was calm, cool and collected, burying both free throws to secure the victory for Arkansas.
This Kentucky basketball team can’t catch a break.