The Hogs took their shot, and it was fun for a while.
While the final score is probably about what many expected, but Arkansas trailed by just three points at halftime. It was a competitive game for a good while, but the Hogs couldn’t keep up in the second half.
Arkansas went through two extended cold spells - one in each half. The Hogs went without a field goal from the 8:30 mark in the first half to the 2:34 mark, missing 8 straight shots, and in the second half from 8:38 to 2:10, missing nine. Kentucky’s worst stretch was only three straight shots once in the second half. The Hogs actually led the game 24-20 before the first dry spell began.
Kentucky shot better than Arkansas throughout the game (53.3% to 39.7%), but in the second half were able to get to the free throw line at will. They weren’t settling for long jumpers, they were attacking and were rewarded for it. The Razorbacks shot 9 free throws in the second half but the Wildcats shot 28. This is not to suggest the officiating gave the game to Kentucky - officials don’t hand anybody a 26-point victory - but it did put the Hogs in a big hole.
Another impact of the whistles was Jaylen Barford’s absence in the second half. He scored 14 points in the first half, but picked up three fouls in a short sequence in the second half (one was a technical he was given as part of a double technical) and he only played five minutes in the second half, and he was held scoreless. Nobody fouled out, but Arkansas did have six players with four fouls. Kentucky only had one such player, Malik Monk.
Monk was the story heading into the game. I imagine any Hog fan reading this site knows his story. Monk, who was leading the SEC in scoring with over 20 points per game heading into Saturday night, was held to 12 points and only two points in the first half. He proved not to be a major factor in this game, but Kentucky has other pretty talented players, such as De’Aaron Fox, who scored 27 points, Isaiah Briscoe (15 points) and Derek Willis, who came off the bench to terrorize Arkansas for a second consecutive year - 15 points on 6-8 shooting in 15 minutes.
Arkansas got solid production from Barford, Daryl Macon (15 points), and Moses Kingsley (14 points and 7 rebounds). But Dusty Hannahs and Anton Beard combined for 10 points on 3-19 shooting. The Razorbacks were ok, but they weren’t great, and you need to be great to compete for 40 minutes in Lexington.
If Arkansas’ goal this year is to make the NCAA Tournament, then playing this game likely won’t hurt much at all as long as Kentucky remains among the nation’s elite this season. It’s basically playing with house money. Arkansas’ RPI could actually improve just from playing this game. Obviously, not as much as it would have gone had Arkansas won the game, but it’s unlikely to go down much, if at all.
Obviously, any Arkansas fan hoping for an eventual return to be at the nation’s elite level isn’t satisfied with that. And that’s fine. That’s why the Monk story continues to resonate as it does.
But until then, the Hogs are still in good shape this season. They have two games at home this week against Mississippi State and Missouri, the two worst teams in the SEC in terms of RPI. Those are games Arkansas really needs to win.