FAYETTEVILLE – For awhile Saturday the Arkansas Razorbacks thrilled their Walton Arena 19,200 capacity crowd overcoming a 36-27 halftime deficit to lead Kentucky 47-44 with 8:19 left and Kentucky coach John Calipari ejected slapped with double technical fouls.
But in that last 8:19 under Kentucky assistant coach Kenny Payne it all turned Quickley. Immanuel Quickley, the Kentucky guard playing all 40 minutes logging a 13 points/10 rebounds double-double, hit a three putting the nationally No. 10 Wildcats up 59-49 with 4:11 left and headed to a 73-66 SEC victory upping their overall and SEC records to 13-4, 4-1 heading home to play Georgia in a Tuesday night SEC game in Lexington, Ky,
Kentucky guard Tyrese Maxey, 11 points, hit two fast break baskets, one and-one 3-point play during the surge including four free throws by Kentucky center Nick Richards, 17 points and nine rebounds, and a 61-49 peak-leading basket by Kentucky reserve Keion Brooks, 10 points and seven rebounds.
Meanwhile with Hall of Fame Kentucky coach Calipari ejected after heatedly disputing an offensive foul called on Kentucky forward EJ Montgomery, Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne, assisted by former Auburn coach Tony Barbee, switched to a zone defense that stifled the Razorbacks and protected four-fouls Kentucky point guard Ashton Hagans.
Hagans did eventually foul out before the Razorbacks got a late break on a Quickley flagrant foul. It allowed Arkansas to be down five with 36 seconds left but it proved too little too late for an Arkansas team nailed on the boards.
Kentucky outrebounded, Arkansas 47-29.
Arkansas missed 10 of 30 free throws including the front halves of three one and ones, and shot but 19 of 57 from the field against Kentucky’s long, strong defenders.
Razorbacks Mason Jones, the game’s leading scorer, Jimmy Whitt and Isaiah Joe closed with scoring stats, 19, 14 and 13 points, deceptively better than their results shooting a combined 12 of 38 from the field and usually free throw flawless Jones 8 of 12 from the line including missing a key one and one.
For upstart Arkansas, now 14-3 overall, 3-2 in the SEC going into Wednesday night’s SEC game at Mississippi State, and preseason picked 11th in the 14-team SEC, it was losing its first at Walton where it had been 10-0, and students camped out overnight and every seat occupied.
“This one hurts,” Arkansas first-year coach Eric Musselman said. “We had an incredible environment in the building. We don’t want to let our fans down and it’s hard to create that atmosphere and get that atmosphere back. The locker room’s hurting”
It wasn’t from lack of effort.
“I thought we played really hard,” Musselman said.
Just not well enough for long enough against the SEC’s traditional powerhouse picked to win the league with its radar up from the Razorbacks’ successes and its resolve up from a midweek upset loss at South Carolina.
“Kentucky is a really good team, obviously” Musselman said.
And got good things at good times from its good players, particularly in its run that ran the game its way.
“They got out in transition and got an easy layup and Maxey was able to get an and-one and Quickley capped it off with a three,” Whitt, scoring 30 last Wednesday against Vanderbilt but stifled 3 of 9 inside by the taller Wildcats, said. “A good team like that when you lose momentum and you’re down 10 late in the game it’s going to be hard adjusting to come back.”
Did Kentucky’s switch from Calipari’s nearly always man to man to zone catch the Hogs off guard?
“Well, that definitely caught its off guard, the zone,,” Jones said. “But there’s no excuses. We run zone offense every day and we just didn’t execute today, late moments, late game situations we just didn’t do good today and Kentucky just took that and ran with it.
That’s what great teams do.”
Other than its SEC loss at LSU and surprisingly outrebounding Vanderbilt, Arkansas had prevailed in league play getting outrebounded and 11-1 nonconference even while mostly nailed on the boards.
Not this time, though. Especially with the field goal and free throw percentages down and only an 11-8 points off turnovers advantage even while Kentucky committed 16 turnovers to Arkansas’ 11.
“You play Kentucky and you lose by 20 on the glass basically,” Musselman said. “You miss front ends of one and ones. I thought our free throw shooting really hurt us. Then lack of rebounding as well.”
Ironically, Musselman said the Razorbacks rebounded best when he simultaneously played five guards, Whitt, Jones, Joe, Desi Sills and Jalen Harris during the second half. Foul trouble, Sills and and Jones both fouled out, prevented him from sticking with that simultaneous five as long as he would have liked.
The irony of the Wildcats going wild on the Hogs with Calipari banished wasn’t lost on Musselman when asked if that was the momentum turning point.
“ Who had to do with that I’m not going to say because I don’t know,” Musselman said. “But everything went their way for a good stretch after Coach Cal was not on the floor.”’
Kentucky’s size with Richards 6-11, Montgomery, 6-10, Brooks, 6-7 and 6-9 Nate Sestina off the bench, the Cats size over an Arkansas lineup with 6-6 Adrio Bailey its tallest starter and 6-8 reserve Reggie Chaney its tallest player used, but it was 6-3 Quickley grabbing the game-high 10 boards.
“I think when you put so much focus on trying to keep the big guys off the boards, putting two bodies on 6-10, guys, something has to open up,” Whitt, 6-3 and trying to box the big guys, said. “So that means a flyer like Quickley did a great job tonight of just being able to fly in there and get rebounds.”
For most of their SEC history the Wildcats have been bigger and better than their league opponents. They were today even with the Hogs fighting the good fight.
“This is a very good Arkansas team,” Payne said. “But at the end of the day, we had 47 rebounds; they had 29. That’s a lot of rebounding.”
Photos courtesy of Craven Whitlow, CW3, Sports Action