No. 18 Arkansas falls 84-67 to top-ranked Kentucky
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Down 31 points and nearly out with about eight minutes left, No. 18 Arkansas took heart in closing strong against top-ranked Kentucky.
If only the Razorbacks could have been as good effective in the previous 32 that essentially doomed them in an 84-67 loss on Saturday.
“I was disappointed in the outcome, but not disappointed in the effort,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said after a game in which his high-scoring team was held to 38 percent shooting and 12 points below its average by the Southeastern Conference’s top defense. “Our guys gave a great effort and I thought we would give Kentucky a run for their money in this game.
“It seemed like they came out real focused, and that’s a credit to (coach) John Calipari and this team. They are undefeated and they took care of their home court.”
Michael Qualls’ 17 points led four Arkansas players in double figures, but the Razorbacks couldn’t keep up after the early minutes.
Bobby Portis added 15 points, Alandise Harris 12 and Rashad Madden 11, none of which mattered against a Kentucky squad that once again played its best against a ranked opponent.
“I’ll give it to them,” Qualls said. “They were taking it to the boards and taking shots. I don’t think we made a 3-point basket in the first half and that’s big because we can shoot the ball really well.”
Andrew Harrison and Trey Lyles each scored 18 points to lead the way for Kentucky (29-0, 16-0), which clinched the SEC regular-season title.
The long-awaited marquee matchup of the SEC’s top two teams belonged to the undefeated Wildcats on both ends as they earned their 46th league title and halted a three-game losing streak against the Razorbacks (23-6, 12-4).
The Wildcats meanwhile shot 48 percent from the field and outrebounded the Razorbacks 38-32, among other statistics, to extend their best-ever start. Tyler Ulis added 14 points and Devin Booker 10 for Kentucky.
Then again, this game mattered a little more for the Wildcats. Besides facing perhaps their last major hurdle to an unbeaten regular season, they were also motivated to beat an Arkansas squad that had won four of five previous meetings.
“I think they were looking forward to this game,” Calipari said.
The Wildcats showed that determination from the start with a quick pace that knocked the Razorbacks on their heels. Lyles started things off with a lob dunk from Karl-Anthony Towns, who followed with a putback basket.
Aaron Harrison soon added a 3-pointer to get a sellout crowd into the game, and Kentucky had plenty more in an energetic if chippy first half by both teams.
Arkansas went 0-for-9 from long range and shot 30 percent shooting overall along with outrebounding the Razorbacks 24-18 through 20 minutes. Few things got better as they made five 3-pointers that made a slight dent in their deficit.
All of them came too late against the Wildcats, who were determined to not lose another to the Razorbacks.
Our team couldn’t speed them up today, unfortunately,” Portis said. “They took care of the ball and that’s pretty much what it was today.”
NOT IN MY HOUSE
Of Kentucky’s many highlight-quality plays early on, the best was Cauley-Stein’s wicked block of Harris’ drive resulting in immediate play on social media. As if pinning the shot wasn’t enough to bring a roar from the sellout crowd, the Wildcats’ 7-footer stared down on the fallen Harris for several seconds.
ON THE SCENE
New York Knicks President and 11-time NBA champion coach Phil Jackson was among several league executives in Rupp for the game.
Arkansas: Portis or Qualls have been the Razorbacks’ leading scorer in 25 of 29 games. ... Anderson was assessed a technical foul early in the second half. ... Arkansas forced just nine turnovers for nine points.
Kentucky: Calipari won his third SEC title with the Wildcats. ... Kentucky shot 57 percent in the second half and finished with 16 points off 12 turnovers.
Arkansas: Visits South Carolina on Thursday.
Kentucky: Visits Georgia on Tuesday.