Five things you need to know from Kentucky’s dispiriting 88-73 loss to Arkansas
Five things you need to know from Kentucky’s 88-73 loss to Arkansas at Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center:
1. The “Muss Bus” rolls through February. Arkansas played the best game seen in Rupp Arena in 2022-23.
The Razorbacks shot 62.7 percent for the game (32-of-51) and 72 percent (18-of-25) in the decisive second half.
Kentucky could not guard Hogs perimeter players Ricky Council IV (20 points, three rebounds, four assists), Anthony Black (19 points, four rebounds, five assists) and Davonte Davis (15 points, three rebounds, seven assists).
Meanwhile, the post-playing Mitchell twins dominated UK on the block. Makhel Mitchell, the 6-foot-10, 240-pound younger brother (by two minutes) had 15 points, four rebounds and five blocked shots. Makhi Mitchell, the 6-9, 230-pound older twin, had four points and nine rebounds.
Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman is the king of February. Over the past three seasons, the Razorbacks are now 15-1 in games played in the second month of the year. The only defeat, by one point, came at Alabama last season.
Musselman is now 3-1 against Kentucky.
2. John Calipari needs to burn Tuesday night’s halftime speech. After an entertaining and hyper-intense first half, Kentucky began the second half trailing only 41-40.
But the tone for the second half was set in the first 1:19 after halftime when Arkansas got a 15-foot jumper from Makhi Mitchell, then turned back-to-back Kentucky turnovers into two Anthony Black dunks.
That put the Razorbacks ahead 47-40 and Kentucky played uphill the rest of the night.
3. No “D” in Kentucky. As impressive as Arkansas was offensively, UK was that bad defensively.
The Razorbacks scored a whopping 46 points in the paint. The Kentucky perimeter players could not stay in front of the Razorbacks’ impressive guards. As has been a problem all season, there was no rim protection for the Wildcats when an Arkansas driver turned the corner.
For all the scrutiny that has fallen on John Calipari’s offensive approach in recent years, it was defensive deficiencies that sunk Kentucky in 2021-22 and the problems have not been fixed this season.
4. Oscar’s struggles. Coming off a four-point performance in which he missed 12 of 14 shots in UK’s Saturday win over Florida, Kentucky star Oscar Tshiebwe had another difficult game Tuesday night.
Seemingly bothered by the length and bulk of the Mitchell twins, Tshiebwe took only six shots. He made three and finished the game with seven points and seven rebounds.
It is the first time Thsiebwe failed to scored in double figures in back-to-back games since last January when he had eight points in a win at Texas A&M and nine in a victory over Tennessee.
5. UK bubble watch. Not only did Kentucky’s loss to Arkansas deny the Wildcats a much-needed Quad 1 victory, it also gave the Razorbacks — like UK, considered an NCAA Tournament “bubble team” — a road victory to which the NCAA tourney Selection Committee is apt to accord significant respect.
Kentucky’s relatively middling NCAA tourney profile now shows the Wildcats 1-7 in Quad 1 games, 6-0 in Quad 2 contests, 3-0 in Quad 3 games and 6-1 in Quad 4 contests.
With the NET Rankings as they stood Tuesday morning, Kentucky has four Quad 1 games (at Mississippi State, Tennessee, at Florida and at Arkansas), two Quad 2 games (at Georgia, Auburn) and one Quad 3 game (Vanderbilt) remaining on its regular-season schedule.
The harsh reality, however, is that based on what we’ve seen so far this season, there’s little reason to think UK can run off a string of Quad 1-level wins.
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