Fayetteville, (AR.) — with only 3 quad-one wins to show the selection committee, Arkansas had 3 chances to gain another one in its last three games. A poor second half against Alabama and a blowout loss to Tennessee meant that the game against the Wildcats would be Arkansas’s last shot before the SEC tournament to boost its resume.
Arkansas started things off with a 3-point jumper by Nick Smit Jr. Kentucky was without a point guard as Cason Wallace would miss the game due to an injury, but that didn’t stop the Wildcats. Kentucky answered quickly with 2 made free throws and a 2-point jumper on back-to-back possessions to take the lead. From there, the Wildcats would either lead or the score would be tied for the rest of the game.
For the first 8 minutes, Arkansas battled fiercely to take the lead, but Kentucky always had an answer. Early on, Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe was their answer. He was responsible for 10/14 points between the 15:19 and 12:48 minute marks and 5 rebounds at that point in the game.
Tshiebwe was also involved in a scuffle early on with MakhelMitchell. Tshiebwe threw an elbow to the back of Mitchell’s head and was called for a technical foul. Many on social media were calling for Tshiebwe to be removed from the game. Below is the video:
Late in the first half, Arkansas received a much-unexpected boost off of the bench. Kamani Johnson came and the physicality Arkansas was missing. Although his stats don’t show much. He made it ugly in the post and kept Kentucky’s bigsfrom rebounding at the rate they were. He also drew Tshiebwe’s second foul—this time a flagrant one—and knocked both shots down with a minute left to go in the half.
Arkansas retained possession because of the flagrant one status and Nick Smith knocked down a 2-point jumper to close the lead to 38-36 with 46 seconds left. UK’s Jacob Toppin missedKentucky’s first shot, but Daimion Collins grabbed the offensive board and knocked down the layup to grow the lead to 4 before halftime.
The second half started just as fast-paced as the first, but the drama unfolded much sooner. Kentucky’s Antonio Reeves made the first basket of the half. Devo Davis then answered with a 3-point bucket. On the other end of the floor, Davis was called for an off-the-ball foul that he did not agree with. On the same possession, Davis was called for a foul for trying to fight over the top of a screen and voiced his frustration. Devo received a double technical for it and was, subsequently, ejected from the game with 18:15 left to go.
Devo’s ejection led to a 6-point swing in favor of Kentucky and grew the Wildcats’ lead to 48-39. Arkansas fought back to within 5 with 10:42 left. A highly contested 3-pointer by Jacob Toppin and a 2-point basket by Adou Thiero quickly pushed the lead back to double digits. The score difference fluctuated between 14 and 9 points for the rest of the game. The final score was 88-79, Kentucky.
Arkansas allowed Kentucky to make 54% (29/54) of their shots but just 28% (4/14) from deep. Kentucky turned the ball over 15 times and Arkansas stole it 9. The Hogs scored 15 points off of those turnovers. Arkansas, for the 3rd game in a row, lost the rebound battle 41-35. They only allowed 10 offensive boards but Kentucky scored 17 second-chance points.
On the other end of the court, the Hogs shot 36% (25/70) from the field and 32% (7/22) from 3-point range. The free throw line was, again, a struggle for the hogs, shooting just 65%. One big reason for the Hogs’ low field goal percentage was their inabilityto finish in the paint. The Hogs went 9/9 on dunks but missed an embarrassing 18 of their 20 layup attempts. They had a great assist-to-turnover ratio, recording 14 assists to 6 turnovers.
Nick Smith Jr. led the Hogs with 25 points followed by Ricky Council IV with 16 and Anthony Black with 14. Devo Davis did have 8 points in virtually just one half of play and most likely would’ve been in double-digit points, too. Smith also had a team-high in assists with 6. Black came in second with 4. Smith also had 4 steals. Jordan Walsh was the only other player with more than one, recording two. Black and Walsh led the team in rebounds with 8 and 7, respectively.
Arkansas finished with less than 20 regular season wins for the first time since Eric Musselman was hired in 2019. Arkansas will enter the SEC Tournament as either a 9 seed or 10 seed, depending on the outcome of the LSU/Florida game. At the time this article was written LSU leads the Gators 33-29 at the half.
In the senario that Florida loses, Arkansas will be a 9 seed and play an 8 seed Mississippi State on the second day of the tournament. If Florida wins, Arkansas will play as the 10 seed against either Vanderbilt or Auburn.