LEXINGTON, (Ky.) — Both preseason top-10 teams, Arkansas and Kentucky find themselves on the bubble of making the NCAA Tournament. Only having one quad 1 win a piece—Kentucky’s being against No. 6 Tennessee and Arkansas’s dating all the way back to the Maui Invitational against San Diego State—is a serious blemish that drops a team from 7-8 seed to an 11-12 seed or worse, quickly. With massive implications on the line, the conditions were set for another classic between the Hogs and Wildcats.
If one were to take this game and plop it onto a neutral court and showed it to people, they would swear it was being played in March. The energy and intensity were the highest it has been for the Hogs this season, and for the opponent they were playing.
Arkansas was incessant on defense in the early minutes of the game, sticking to their man like magnets around screens and ball fakes. Kentucky couldn’t buy a clean shot, but it wasn’t enough to keep them from scoring. The Wildcats started to hit tough shots and stayed right on the heels of the Hogs throughout the half.
Arkansas was on fire on the offensive side of the floor. It started with a 3-point basket by Ricky Council IV. Whether Kentucky played man or zone, the Hogs had no problem navigating. Jordan Walsh was one of the key spark producers in the first half scoring 7 points in his first 5 minutes, including a silky-smooth 3-point strike to start his run.
The Hogs finally went back to their roots and created offense off of great defense. With 5:41 left in the half, Kentucky’s Antonio Reeves missed a 2-point jumper. Oscar Tshiebwe and Makhi Mitchell fought for the rebound but lost control of the ball. Mitchell ended up on the ground with the ball and somehow got it to Jalen Graham who passed it to Council IV in transition. Council threw a lob up to Anthony Black who slammed it downto cap a 6-0 run.
Kentucky came back, however, and closed Arkansas’s lead to 41-40 with a 2-point buzzer-beater from Daimion Collins.
The Razorbacks had possession of the ball to start the second half. With the shot clock winding down, Makhi Mitchell was forced to show off his mid-range abilities and sank a 15-footer. Black then forced back-to-back steals that resulted in dunks at the other end of the floor. Only a minute and 15 seconds ticked off the clock, but the Hogs now led by 7.
Arkansas continued to dominate offensively through the rest of the half, knocking down an insane 72% from the field.
Defensively, Arkansas couldn’t slow down freshman standout, Cason Wallace who recorded a game-high 24 points, 5 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks, but they were able to severely limit the reigning national player of the year, Oscar Tshiebwe. Tshiebwe was held at or below 50% of his season averages for scoring (15.9 ppg) with 7 points and rebounds (13.6 rpg) with 7.
The Mitchell twins were the bane of Tshiebwe’s existence tonight. At one point, Makhel Mitchell blocked Tshiebwe twice in a row and forced a jump ball. Arkansas also only allowed 12 points in the paint in the second half.
Khel is hosting another block party pic.twitter.com/0NYc0PdVqh— Arkansas Razorbacks Men’s Basketball (@RazorbackMBB) February 8, 2023
Arkansas steadily grew the lead up to 16 by the 4-minute markand coasted to the finish line. Hogs win 88-73.
The Hogs were outstanding on offense. They shot 62% (32-51) from the field and 44% (4-9) from 3-point range. Arkansas also knocked down their free throws, making 20-24 (83%) from the line. The Razorbacks gave up 11 turnovers but recorded 19 assists, nearly giving Arkansas a 2:1 ratio.
On the defensive end of the floor, Arkansas allowed UK to shoot 47% (29-62) but held them to 31% (4-13) from downtown. The Hogs lost the rebound battle 31-26, but their presence was definitely felt in the paint with 7 blocks. Arkansas did force 15 turnovers, stealing 10, and scoring 23 points off of them.
Ricky Council IV had a team-high in scoring, but four other players recorded double-digit points: Anthony Black (19), Makhel Mitchell (15), Devo Davis (15), and Jordan Walsh (13). Makhi Mitchell led the team by a lot with a game-high 9 boards.
Devo Davis had a game-high 7 assists, followed closely by Anthony Black (5) and Council (4). Black also recorded a game-high 5 steals while Makhel Mitchell recorded a game-high 5 blocks.
Arkansas will try to continue its SEC winning streak against Mississippi State and its stout defense. The Hogs will be back in Bud Walton on February 11th at 5:00 pm CST.