Arkansas heading to Rupp Arena to play Kentucky Tuesday

By Otis Kirk

FAYETTEVILLE — Fresh off its first road win of the season, Arkansas takes a step up in competition as they face Kentucky Tuesday night at 8:00 p.m. on ESPN.

Arkansas defeated South Carolina 65-63 on Saturday in Columbia for its fourth SEC win in a row. Kentucky enters Tuesday night’s game fresh off a 72-67 win over Florida. Kentucky started SEC play 1-3, but owns a six-game winning streak of its own in league play. Eric Musselman knows the Hogs need to play their best road game of the season to possibly win this one since they are playing two SEC road games in four days.

“Well, we won this game so it makes it a little bit easier to prepare, but obviously a very, very quick turnaround,” Musselman said Saturday. “Much of our preparation will be Monday, which is also a travel day. But Tuesday is a late game, so we will take advantage of a late game to try to get some mini film sessions in the day of the game. That will be extremely important as we lose a prep day, basically. It’s tough.

“We’ve still got to travel back tonight, and then we’ve got to travel on the day before the game. When you have back-to-back road games with this short turnaround, it eats up a little bit of prep time. But we’ll start tonight. As soon as I get on the plane, I’ll start diving into Kentucky, and we’ll start our preparation.”

The quick turnaround made it so Musselman really didn’t have time to enjoy Saturday’s win.

“I don’t,” Musselman said. “I hope the players enjoy the win tonight. Hopefully, we’ll get back safely, but certainly the preparation for Kentucky will begin immediately upon ending this press conference. We’ll start looking at their cum[ulative] stats. Obviously we’ve got to box out (Oscar) Tshiebwe. They have a great freshman in (Cason) Wallace, who does a great job on both sides of the ball. One of the best defenders in the country.

“CJ Fredrick’s the guy that can really rope threes. He stretches the defense out. (Sahvir) Wheeler for them at the point guard spot’s got great speed, does an excellent job getting their team in their offense. And then (Jacob) Toppin is a guy that has a really good mid-range pull-up game. He’s an excellent defender, excellent offensive rebounder, kind of flies in from the weak side on the offensive board. So a lot of things that we’ve got to get ready for in regards to Kentucky.”

Tshiebwe was the preseason SEC Player of the Year and is playing like it. He’s averaging 15.9 points, 13.6 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game. Musselman talked about how they will defend him.

“The biggest thing is he plays volleyball with offensive rebounds,” Musselman said. “He’s so quick off his feet. He draws fouls around the rim. All those things. Defensively, he’s got good anticipation. He’s a high, high steal player for his position. He blocks shots at the defensive end. He’s just tenacious. You know, he’s relentless on the glass. And so you’ve got to match that energy. Which, tonight, I thought (Josh) Gray really, really, really hurt us with 14 rebounds and seven offensive boards.”

Guard Antonio Reeves is also having a very good season for the Wildcats. He’s averaging 13 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.3 steal and 0.2 block each outing.

“Yeah, Reeves is a great scorer,” Musselman said. “He’s obviously a transfer out of the portal. can really shoot the ball. You’ve got to ID him as he crosses half court. He’s a really good transition 3-ball shooter. He and Fredrick both stretch the defense out because of their ability to score the basketball. He can get really hot. Streaky shooter, a guy that was a focal point offensively at his prior university and a go-to guy prior to coming to Kentucky. Now he’s kind of evolved into a guy that they need points from as well. So obviously guarding Reeves will be extremely important as well.”

Ricky Council IV, a transfer from Wichita State, leads the Hogs averaging 17 points per game and is also pulling down 3.2 boards each outing. He is excited Arkansas enters the Kentucky game on a hot streak.

“Definitely a bust,” Council said. “Four SEC wins in a row. We’re on a hot streak. Hopefully we’ll move up another spot in the standings, and Kentucky’s a good team. They started off the season slow. People were having their own comments about them, but they’re still a good team with a really good coach. So, I know they’re going to be ready to play, and we’ve got to be ready to play as well.”

South Carolina outrebounded the Razorbacks 34-32 on Saturday. Musselman knows his team needs a much better performance in that regard against the Wildcats.

“If we don’t rebound better we’re not going to get the result we got tonight,” Musselman said. “We have to defensive rebound. We’ve got to control the paint area much better than we did tonight. But I am happy. We had 220 passes today, so we did a good job sharing the ball today. Twenty passes over our 200 mark is an incredible number. Our bench has now, in back-to-back games, dominated in the bench scoring today. 20-4, so plus 16 there. So a lot of positives to take away.”

Arkansas (16-7, 5-5) and Kentucky (16-7, 7-3) will tip at 8 p.m. Tuesday night and televised on ESPN. 

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