FAYETTEVILLE – Kentucky awarded itself the Oscar, but Razorbacks JD Notae, Stanley Umude, Jaylin Williams and Devo Davis awarded Arkansas the game Saturday at Walton Arena.
So despite incredible Kentucky 6-9 center Oscar Tshiebwe’s 30 points, and 18 rebounds double-double plus three shot blocks, two assists and a steal, the nationally No. 18 Razorbacks defeated the nationally No. 6 Wildcats 75-73 in Saturday afternoon’s CBS nationally televised SEC game before another packed Walton Arena house.
Senior guard Notae, 30 points and eight assists, sophomore 6-10 center Williams’ 16 points/ 12 rebounds double-double despite battling illness and Tshiebwe, and 6-6 graduate transfer swingman Umude’s 13 points, including 3 of 5 treys, and six rebounds carried Coach Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks, 23-6 overall, to their 13th victory in the last 14 games. They include SEC conquests of then nationally No. 1 Auburn and then No. 16 Tennessee and now No. 6 at Kentucky and at then No. 12 LSU.
With only rematches left Wednesday at Walton against LSU and next Saturday at Tennessee, the Razorbacks start their final regular season week tied with Kentucky and Tennessee for second at 12-4 with Auburn first but only by a 13-3 game losing Saturday to Tennessee.
Coach John Calipari’s Wildcats are 23-6 overall and play their final games Tuesday at home in Lexington, Ky. against Ole Miss and Saturday at Florida before the following week’s SEC Tournament in Tampa, Fla.
Auburn, Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee all earn double-byes to the March 18 SEC Tournament quarterfinals.
That Arkansas has beaten the other Top 25 three holding double-byes speaks volumes to Musselman.
“I’ve just been so impressed with the way that we’ve played throughout this whole streak,” Musselman said of the Hogs 12-4 SEC record rally after an 0-3 SEC start. “What the group has done is they’ve weathered a really, really tough schedule. And not only did they weather but they dominated it by winning basketball games, quite frankly, against some incredible teams.
The Kentucky team can win a national championship. The Tennessee team can win a national championship. They’re Final Four caliber. Auburn is a team that could win a national championship.”
What about his Razorbacks? Could they win a national championship?
“”We’re good enough where we have to keep getting better,” Musselman said. “That’s all I know.”
Arkansas appeared national championship caliber answering Tshiebwe’s game-opening basket with a 15-0 run.
But by halftime with Tshiebwe already double-doubling 14 points and 12 rebounds and Williams sick and feeling sicker, the Wildcats closed only down, 34-28 at intermission despite Notae’s 18 first half points.
Off Trey Wade’s turnover, Kentucky took its first lead 41-40, when Keion Brooks, scoring 14 points as did back from the injured list Kentucky guard Sahvir Wheeler, tallied at 14:54.
From there the lead swung back and forth with Kentucky last leading, 70-69 on Kellen Grady’s trey at 2:20.
Notae, 13 of 26 from the field mostly inside hitting but 2 of 8 treys, took what one of his patented drives to the the bucket then fooled the Wildcats dishing to wide open Williams for a 71-70 lead at 1:22 that Arkansas never relinquished.
Williams hit big three throws with 36 seconds left.
Brooks missed a three, Kentucky’s last viable shot before
Davis hit 1 of 2 three throws at :13 and :05.
That Kentucky left two points shy of a game-tying load ending the game on Ty Ty Washington’s banked 3-pointer.
Like Wheeler, Washington had missed Kentucky’s last two games injured but returned to factor Saturday.
While both coming off injuries, they surely felt better Saturday than Jaylin Williams.
“At halftime he (Williams) was throwing up and what not,” Umude said. “He was not really feeling his best today. But he was firing down there with one of the best big men in the country. It’s a tough matchup, but at the end of the game he hit some big shots down the stretch, 6 for 7 from the line. He’s a big reason we got the W.”
Notae remarked, “ Piggy-backing off what Stan said, he (Williams) was throwing up at halftime, but came back out, kept fighting, kept fighting. We told him ‘We’ve got his back.’ He made some big plays down the stretch late and we got it done.”
Kamani Johnson, three rebounds, two points an assist and a steal, gave Williams a valuable 7:51 relief against Kentucky’s Oscar Award winner.
“I mean, that dude, he’s crazy down there,” Notae said of Tshiebwe. “I’m not gonna lie. He did his thing. But we got it done. So that’s all we really worried about.”
Certainly Notae kept Kentucky worried about him. Notae not only scored 30 but dealt those eight assists, played fierce defense and joined fellow Arkansas guard Au’Diese Toney blocking shots down the stretch.
“He (Notae) is one of the best players in the nation,” Umude said. “He takes pressure off all of us just knowing what he can do out there and it shows what type of players he is showing up in these big games like this.”
Photos curtesy of Craven Whitlow, CW3,Sports Action