FAYETTEVILLE - Kentucky’s freshmen McDonald’s All-Americans made hamburger of the Arkansas Razorbacks on the second-half boards erasing the game’s 43-43 first half to an 87-72 Big Blue Wildcats victory Tuesday night before 18,083 packing Walton Arena.
Only leading the boards, 23-17 in the first half, Kentucky’s long lean Wildcats rookies erased the boards 23-12 in the second half to finish with a 46-29 rebounding advantage that resembled volleyball with 18 offensive rebounds. The Wildcats erased Arkansas’ 61-56 lead at 13:14 with a 9-0 run from which Arkansas never recovered unlike Kentucky rallying from Arkansas’ 11-0 game opening lead.
So Arkansas’ winning streak stops at four as Coach Mike Anderson’s Razorbacks take a 19-9 overall record and 8-7 SEC record into Saturday’s SEC game against Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Coach John Calipari’s Wildcats now match Arkansas at 19-9, 8-7 and next host Missouri Saturday in Lexington, Ky.
For the first half, and the first seven minutes of the second half, Anderson saw two teams as evenly matched as their records as each weathered big opposition runs to be dead even at intermission.
“Obviously our guys came out and they were fired up with emotions but emotions only take you so long and so far,” Anderson said. “I thought the first half was a well-played game by both teams. The second half was the difference in the game. Give Kentucky credit. In the second half you could see they imposed their will on the glass.”
And shattered the Hogs like glass in every phase scoring 31 of the game’s final 42 points.
“I thought our defense was not up to standards of stopping them from doing what they wanted to do,”Anderson said. “Sometimes defense affects your offense and we couldn’t score and they attacked the glass.”
Calipari said Kentucky attacking the glass reduced Arkansas from a spree of threes in the first half, eight total including three in that 11-0 lead, to 1 of 7 for the second half.
“ In the first half they got four threes on offensive rebounds that we didn't go get balls and they kicked them out,” Calipari said. “In the second half we started rebounding.”
And rebounded nicely from that 11-0 hole eventually to lead 43-40 until Arkansas senior guard Daryl Macon’s three two seconds before intermission closed the half 43-43.
“With all freshman, there are experiences they have to go through” Calipari said. “One of them is being down 11-0 on the road to a team that was so hyped to play this game that it was crazy. We told them they stemmed the tide because this is a tough place to play.”
It was tough for a good while for Kentucky what with Macon scoring a game-leading 26 points while senior point guard Anton Beard scored 13 and dished five assists.
Senior starting guard Jaylen Barford scored 12 but only shot 4 for 16 while doing so.
Up front senior forward Dustin Thomas provided 10 rebounds and 6-11 SEC Freshman of the Week forward Daniel Gafford of El Dorado blocked four shots, scored nine points and grabbed five boards.
However with the three starting guards and reserve guards C.J. Jones, shooting 0 for 4, and Darius Hall combining for just five rebounds, Arkansas’ big men didn’t get the all-round rebounding help received when they outrebounded a bigger Texas A&M, team 45-33 in last Saturday’s 94-75 win at Walton.
Also Arkansas’ bench, so instrumental in the 4-game winning streak, got outscored, 38-6 by the Kentucky bench led by forwards PJ Washington 13 points and 10 rebounds; Jarred Vanderbilt, 11 points and nine rebounds, and guard Quade Green, 12 points.
“Their bench outplayed our bench,” Anderson said.
For starters, forward Kevin Knox scored 23 and starting guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 18.
So many of those Kentucky points were because of the boards, the Razorbacks knew.
“They had 18 offensive rebounds and you can truly say that cost us the game,” Macon said.
Kentucky earned it, Beard said, noting the Hogs can’t let the Wildcats beat them twice still mulling about the them while headed to Alabama.
“Hats off to them,” Macon said. “They played well tonight. They broke our press down, out-rebounded us, out-smarted us tonight, so we just have to get back in the gym and get our minds right.”