A Tuesday night game with a 9 pm tip against what many would consider a “lesser” opponent could be a trap game, right? Of course, that was what several people said about the Vandy game. And the South Carolina game. And Missouri. But time after time, Kentucky seemed to be dialed in and ready to put those teams away and the word “trap” didn’t appear to be in their vocabulary.
Arkansas came into Rupp with a 5-game losing streak and not playing well by anyone’s standards. Kentucky, meanwhile, was arguably one of the hottest teams in the nation. So this would be a piece of cake, right? The Cats won, but it was nowhere close to the 17-point spread predicted. Arkansas was dubbed “horrible” by several members of the media, so 17 points didn’t seem that outlandish.
But Arkansas started the game “with a chip on their shoulders” according to Razorbacks guard Desi Sills. What a chip it was and the team that had been averaging just over 32% on 3-point attempts for the season seemingly caught fire and made 5-10 in the opening half and finished the game 10-20, though at one point they were shooting around 58% from beyond the arc.
For the Cats, nothing seemed to work in the early going. Mr. All-Everything, PJ Johnson had a mere 4 points and 2 rebounds in the opening half. Coach Mike Anderson said the plan was to shut down Johnson and that seemed to be a fairly solid strategy as the Razorbacks led by as many as 12 in the 1st half, and went to the locker room with an 11-point advantage, 39-28.
Fortunately for Kentucky, Tyler Herro was able to create some offense and managed 12 points in the half. It was almost solely because of Herro that the Cats weren’t in a lot more trouble than they were. Tyler poured in another 17 points to finish with a game-high 29 points on 9-10 shooting (5-6 3FG).
The other big contributor for the Cats was surprisingly (to most people but not me!) Nick Richards. E.J. Montgomery got the start for the 2nd consecutive game because of the injury to Reid Travis, but it was not E.J.’s night to shine. Enter the often frustrating but totally lovable Nick Richards who ended the night with 15 rebounds. His teammates were happy for the breakthrough night because, as Herro said after the game, “we need Nick to play like this.” You can hear some of Nick’s post-game remarks here:
Kentucky did bring energy and focus finally when they fell behind by 15 points (45-30 at the 18:22 mark). It was then they slowly but steadily chipped away at the Razorbacks’ lead and started frustrating Anderson’s team. After making through the first half with only one turnover, Arkansas was forced into 6 turnovers in the 2nd half. On the flip side, the Cats were extremely sloppy and careless with the ball, losing it 12 times in the first half. Making it through the remainder of the game with only 3 more miscues combined with destroying the Hogs on the boards 40-27 proved to be just enough to get the W and move on to this weekend’s rematch with the Volunteers.
It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t pretty. But sometimes at this point in the season, the win is all that matters and the Cats are still tied for the lead in the SEC. Here’s hoping that will be the case around 4:30 pm on Saturday.
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