Tuesday Hoops Advance

Nate Allen

FAYETTEVILLE – Customarily SEC men’s basketball coaches prepare against Kentucky trying to convince their teams that Kentucky’s Wildcats aren’t even better than their glorious SEC history.

This time around it seems Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman must convince his 14-5, overall, 6-4 in the SEC Razorbacks that though floundering 5-12, 4-6, Coach John Calipari’s Wildcats on any given game still can live up to Kentucky’s SEC peerless past.

Kentucky’s Rupp Arena reigns Cats and Hogs tonight tipping off at 6 p.m CST on ESPN in Lexington, Ky.

“I think Kentucky’s capable of beating any team in the country,” Musselman said.

And by the by sizable second half leads Kentucky taken, including against nationally No. 11 Tennessee last Saturday night in Lexington, Musselman’s words don’t ring hollow.

Until the final results. Then you add Kentucky’s 81-72 loss to the Vols, the Wildcats’ sixth defeat in their last seven games and the third consecutive since they defeated LSU and then warning’s urgency tends to tarnish.

However that triumph over LSU ranks with the Cats flogging Florida, 76-58 at Florida vouching Musselman’s premise this Kentucky team is any given game dangerous.

“I have great respect for Kentucky,” Musselman said. “You know they’re a young team and they’ve had a lot of close games that could have gone either way. You know they are a young team and with young teams sometimes that happens.”

Let’s face it. Under Calipari the Wildcats are always a young team loaded with freshmen McDonald’s All-Americans and the occasional older holdover or grad transfer taking them deep into the NCAA Tournament including one national championship.

This Kentucky team, “overly, overly talented,” Musselman said knowing Calipari’s quota of 5-star recruits for whatever reason just hasn’t meshed like all but one of his past Kentucky teams.

Customarily, defense is the root of young teams failing to meet potential.

Not this time.

“They are really hard to score on,” Musselman said. “Their defense is really, really good. They’re long. They’re athletic. They have excellent shot-blockers. They do a great job of protecting the rim.”

Despite what Musselman calls “some really gifted individual offensive players” the Wildcats have struggled consistently scoring as a team.

Just one breaking loose, like sophomore forward Keion Brooks scoring 23 off the bench against Tennessee last Saturday, hasn’t been enough.

Calipari was asked postgame Tennessee, the Cats’ third consecutive nationally ranked opponent and not including the SEC vs. Big 12 Challenge game with Texas cancelled by covid, trying to rally players that likely never lost 12 games their high school careers much less a month before the close of the regular season.

“I don’t worry about that,” Calipari said. “They also have a coach that’s not used to losing 12 games in three years. I’m never going to stop, quit on this team. I’ll give them everything I have. But at the end of the day, they have to get on the court and perform.”

Musselman is concerned that with last Saturday’s game with Texas A&M postponed because of the Aggies’ issues with covid-19 tests and contact tracing that his Hogs haven’t been on the court under game conditions since last Tuesday’s 61-45 SEC victory over Mississippi State at Walton Arena.

“When there’s a jolt in the schedule, how do you stay fresh? Musselman said. “How do you not lose some of your rhythm?”

The gap between games does allow Razorbacks Desi Sills, Jaylin Williams, Justin Smith and Moses Moody extra healing time from their various injuries.

All but possibly Sills, questionable because of a painful shoulder injury, should play tonight.

Musselman avidly hopes the break in routine doesn’t break the recent momentum of sophomore 7-3 center Connor Vanover of Little Rock and freshman guard Davonte “Devo” Davis of Jacksonville, both outstanding starting against Mississippi State.

“When Connor’s in the game the ball moves a little bit better,” Musselman said. “And the floor’s spaced out because every team has to have their center or whoever’s guarding Connor, they’ve got to respect his three-point threat.

Certainly Devo’s done a great job continuing to develop during the course of this season.”

ARKANSAS (14-5, 6-4)

F-Justin Smith 6-7 Sr. 11.3pts. 6.7 rebs.

C-Connor Vanover 7-3 So. 7.5 5.7

G-Jalen Tate 6-6 Sr. 10.6 3.6

G-Moses Moody 6-6 Fr. 16.4 5.6

G-Davonte Davis 6-3 Fr. 6.7 3.6

KENTUCKY (5-12, 4-6)

F-Isaiah Jackson 6-10 Fr. 6.4 pts. 2.8 rebs.

C-Olivier Sarr 7-0 Sr. 10.5 5.6

G-Davion Mintz 6-3 Sr. 9.9 2.2

G-Devin Askew 6-3 Fr. 7.1 2.8

G-Brandon Boston 6-7 Fr. 11.6 5.2

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