Like a Scene from a Movie
The Razorbacks let an opportunity slip through their fingers in what was their most highly anticipated basketball game in recent memory. The Hogs came into the contest at 14-2 but with still more to prove to the AP voters. Kentucky came into the contest blood-thirsty after losing at the buzzer to an average South Carolina team. 19.000+ fans packed the Basketball Palace of Mid America. You couldn’t script it better if you tried. Unfortunately for the Hogs, it would not include the perfect fairy-tale ending.
After facing a slight deficit for much of the first half, the Razorbacks opened the second half on a run. They outscored Kentucky 17-8 to bring the score to a standstill at 44-44. Not long after the game was tied, Kentucky big man EJ Montgomery was whistled for a questionable moving screen foul. This sent Kentucky Coach John Calipari over the edge. He received two technical fouls in quick succession, disqualifying him from the contest. The atmosphere at Bud Walton Arena could not have been any better. Some described the noise in the moment as being able to “feel the noise in [their] feet.” Pictures surfaced of Kentucky players plugging their ears in an attempt to block out the up-roar. Mason Jones stepped to the FT line and hit 3/4 of the technical FTs to give Arkansas a 47-44 lead late in the second half. And then another, unwelcome shift occurred.
After their head coach was tossed from the contest, Kentucky silenced the crowd with a 17-2 run, giving them a 61-49 lead. Arkansas could do nothing but foul Wildcat big man Nick Richards on defense and try to shoot their way around Kentucky’s zone on offense. Despite making a late push, cutting the lead to 5 with under 2:00 to play, and Mason Jones and Desi Sills fouled out, the significant cold spell was too much to overcome. The fight never yielded as Isaiah Joe couldn’t control a pass for a corner 3PA that could have cut the lead to 4 with under 10 seconds to play. Nonetheless, the crowd showed up. The Hogs fought hard. The future is still bright.
After putting up a career-high 30 points against Vanderbilt on Wednesday, Jimmy Whitt shot only 33.3% from the field against Kentucky. It was his season-high 8 FTs made that pushed him into double-digit points at 14. Isaiah Joe shot only 4-14 from the field, including 3-11 from deep. His 13 points were well below his season average. Mason Jones missed a season-high four FTs, putting his total at 8-12. Adrio Bailey also missed 5 of his 6 FT attempts. Jones and Desi Sills were both on the bench with five fouls before the 2:00 mark. The team, as a whole, was outrebounded 47-28.
However, despite all of the negatives listed above, the Hogs found themselves well within reach of winning late in the game. The massive rebounding margin hides a surprisingly good stat. The Hogs were only defeated on the offensive glass 12-8, yet another improvement since their abysmal performance against LSU. The total rebound margin was in larger part due to the Hogs missing so many shots than anything else. Adrio Bailey, aside from his poor FT%, put up a very well rounded stat line despite being much shorter than all of Kentucky’s bigs. He finished with 6 points, five rebounds, three steals, two assists, two blocks, and 0 turnovers. The Hogs just lost to the #10 team in the nation by single digits despite so many odds and stats being stacked against them. This team is in good hands and headed in the right direction.
Razorbacks Road Ahead
The Hogs have a tall task ahead of them, but first, they have to put this loss behind them. It hurt to lose a close game in front of a crowd full of anticipation like that. However, there’s much more basketball to be played. Up next, the Hogs have Mississippi State, a rolling SEC squad that just defeated Missouri and Georgia by a combined 59 point margin of victory. The Bulldogs have four players averaging double digits, including returning star Reggie Perry who averages 16 and 10. Perry leaves a bitter taste with most Hog fans as he was very close to joining the Hogs as a freshman last season. This adds a little extra heat on top of this conference showdown Wednesday night. Also on Arkansas’s radar is the SEC – Big 12 matchup against TCU next weekend and another heavyweight battle against current #4 ranked Auburn.
@ Mississippi State – 11-6 (2-3)
TCU – 12-5 (3-2)
South Carolina – 10-7 (2-2)
@ Alabama – 10-7 (3-2)
#4 Auburn – 15-2 (3-2)
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