It was a good-news, bad-news kind of night for Arkansas. As Coach Mike Anderson put it, “For 20 minutes, we played toe to toe with one of the top teams in the country.” The bad news? “The game is 40 minutes.”
The game was definitely a tale of two halves. The first half was tightly contested, and Arkansas even opened up a 4 point lead (24-20) with just over 8 minutes left before intermission. The Cats then went on a 12-0 run, and while the Razorbacks pulled within 3 at the half, they never had the lead again.
The big storyline in this game was supposed to be how Malik Monk would play against the school from his home state. After scoring the game’s opening bucket, it appeared Monk was going to show Arkansas that he was doing just fine at Kentucky. However, those would be his only points of the first half as two fouls sent him to the bench with 7:03 remaining until intermission. While Monk did recover in the 2nd half (12 points, 3 assists, and 1 rebound), it was De’Aaron Fox and his career-high 27 points (along with 6 rebounds and 6 assists) in the spotlight instead.
Five Cats ended up in double figures (Adebayo – 11, Briscoe – 15, and Willis 15), showing once again very balanced scoring. The Cats were also dominant on the boards, winning the battle of rebounds handily, 43-30. But the biggest takeaway from the 2nd half might be what Coach Cal summed up as “My team won’t be bullied. This is not that kind of team.”
What prompted those comments from Cal was a very physical 2nd half that included:
Calipari said, “Games are going to get heated, they’re going to get testy, and we do not.” He added, “You put your arms up and walk away.”
Well, maybe they’ll walk away next time. When Jaylen Barford “stepped” on Briscoe, Fox quickly came to Zay’s rescue and pushed Barford. This resulted in a double technical, but more importantly, got the crowd fired up as much as the hope of a free chicken biscuit does. Barford didn’t touch the ball again without getting booed very loudly, and he was mostly ineffective after that.
In the end, what had been a close game at the half resulted in yet another beat down by the Cats. Trying to run with the Cats hasn’t worked. Intimidation wasn’t effective either.
Perhaps Bam Adebayo summed it up best when he said, “We won’t back down. Nobody’s going to punk us.”
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