Arkansas looks to run Kentucky ragged

Frenetic pace forcessplit-second decisions

jtipton@herald-leader.comJanuary 17, 2012 

  • Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday
    Where: LP Field in Nashville
    TV: ESPNews
    Radio: WBUL-FM 98.1; WLAP-AM 630; WWRW-FM 105.5

After a season of mostly possession-by-possession basketball, Kentucky faces an opponent that sounds, well, possessed. Arkansas will try to outrun UK on Tuesday night in Rupp Arena.

"Well, we're going to attack," Coach Mike Anderson said Monday when a reporter noted UK's many half-court basket-brawls this season. "That's how we play. ... We won't go away from what we do."

No milk-the-clock. No seven-pass rule. No shortening of the game.

This prompted questions about the Hogs making a mistake trying to hook with a left-hooker.

"If that's their game, and they think it's what's best for their team, that's what they should go for," said Terrence Jones, who acknowledged his joy at the prospect of an up-tempo game. "Yeah, because at a faster pace, more things happen."

Fans with a long memory might advise the Cats to be careful of what they wish. Rick Pitino's first UK team of 1989-90, the Bombinos, showed how speeding up the pace can cut a superior opponent down to size.

And Anderson conceded that No. 2 Kentucky should be favored.

"It's a no-brainer," he said. " ... We have got to play one of our better games, almost a perfect game."

Arkansas, 13-4 overall and 2-1 in the Southeastern Conference, will press and trap. Then press and trap some more.

"They put so much pressure on you at all five positions," said LSU Coach Trent Johnson, who spoke of "random double teams" appearing at various spots on the court. "Break-neck speed they want to play both offensively and defensively. They don't let you breathe."

UK Coach John Calipari noted how pressure defenses, once broken, try to quickly retreat to prevent a transition score. Not Arkansas.

"They run at you," Calipari said. "It's another thing for our point guard (freshman Marquis Teague) to feel and our guards to feel."

After three league games, Arkansas leads the SEC with an average of 11.3 steals and a turnover margin of plus seven. The Hogs are also the league's highest-scoring team (76.7 ppg).

The faster pace is intended to move opponents away from pre-game preparation and into a scrambled competition of improvisation.

"Your players are going to have to make good decisions because they're going to force you to do that," Ole Miss Coach Andy Kennedy said. " ... You just have to be aggressive in your mind-set and you have to attack when the opportunities are there."

Ole Miss beat Arkansas 71-63, in part, by controlling the pace. But it wasn't easy.

"I thought we did a good job," Kennedy said. "I look up, and we've got 20-some turnovers."

In three SEC games, Arkansas' opponents have 33 assists and 57 turnovers.

A quick pace might test Kentucky's depth, a notion that Calipari dismissed by saying, "Guys would rather go up and down rather than get in a (defensive) stance for 25 seconds each time."

After UK beat Tennessee last weekend, Calipari noted the need to find more minutes for Kyle Wiltjer and Twany Beckham.

Arkansas has nine players averaging 14.7 or more minutes in league play. Kentucky has six, with the fewest the 22-minute average logged by Darius Miller.

"Our bench is going to have to come into play this particular game," Anderson said.

Teague, who has played the second-most minutes of any SEC player (36.3 per game), pronounced himself ready to play however long is necessary.

"I'm fine," he said. "If I have to play that many minutes, I will. That's fine with me."

Here's another stat to ponder: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (35.3 minutes) and Anthony Davis (34 minutes) join Teague among the eight SEC players on the floor the most so far this league season. The Arkansas player averaging the most SEC minutes is guard Mardracus Wade (29.3).

Anderson also cited pace as a means to counter Davis, who leads the nation in blocks (4.6 per game) and needs two rejections to set a Kentucky record. By beating UK downcourt, Davis and a defense ranked second nationally in opponents' shooting accuracy (35.6 percent) is negated.

"I just think we've got to turn the game into a track meet," Anderson said. "We've got to make those guys get up and down the floor. We can't just let him (Davis) sit there and protect the paint because that's an advantage for them."

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