No. 1 Kentucky has rolled through the majority of its games this season, with head coach John Calipari’s talented mix of freshmen (four of them, to be exact) and returnees who finished one game short of a national title last season establishing themselves as the clear favorites to win the national title. In No. 18 Arkansas, Kentucky was faced with their lone ranked opponent in SEC play, and it should also be noted that the Razorbacks won both meetings last season and held a three-game win streak in the series.
But none of that mattered at Rupp Arena Saturday afternoon, as Kentucky rolled to an 84-67 victory that wasn’t as close as the final margin would lead one to believe. The Wildcats, who shot just 5-for-17 from beyond the arc, outscored the Razorbacks 40-24 in the paint and made nearly 56 percent of their two-point shots.
That percentage inside of the arc may not be considered “elite,” but in Arkansas’ seven-game win streak prior to Saturday’s loss just one team managed to make at least 50 percent of their two-point shots (Missouri). Kentucky simply had too much skill, size and athleticism for the visitors, and while Mike Anderson’s team didn’t quit they were fighting upstream all afternoon.
Starters Andrew Harrison and Trey Lyles scored 18 points apiece, and reserve guards Tyler Ulis (14) and Devin Booker (ten) combined to score 24 off the bench. Aaron Harrison may have shot just 2-for-11 from the field, but Kentucky has more than enough weapons to account for one player’s off afternoon.
Yet even with Kentucky’s offensive options, the biggest problem for Arkansas was the impact Kentucky had on the defensive end. The Wildcats limited the Razorbacks to 37.5% shooting from the field and 5-for-18 from beyond the arc, with both percentages well below Arkansas’s numbers for the season. And for a team that has utilized its depth well throughout the season, Arkansas received just seven points from its reserves.
Arkansas needed to produce its best showing of the season to have a shot at handing Kentucky its first loss of the season. That didn’t occur, and the Wildcats had a lot to do with that. The remainder of Kentucky’s opponents will face similar odds between now and the end of the season. And Saturday’s demolition was the latest piece of evidence that “putting it all together” against the Wildcats is far easier said than done.