Mistake-prone Cats stumble at Arkansas

jtipton@herald-leader.comMarch 2, 2013 

  • Thursday

    Kentucky at Georgia

    When: 7 p.m. TV: ESPN

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Kentucky players believed a loss like Saturday's was behind them, literally and figuratively. Barely 24 hours earlier, point guard Ryan Harrow spoke of a "breakthrough" created by home victories in the previous three games.

But Arkansas' 73-60 victory here represented one big reversal of fortune. Breakthrough gave way to familiar breakdowns of earlier this season.

"I'm real surprised," 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein said. "For me, I felt like we had turned the corner from — (pause) — this right here. What we just went through."

Kentucky turned the ball over 19 times, which equaled the season high at Texas A&M. The shaky ball-handling prevented UK from capitalizing on Arkansas' poor shooting. The 34.8-percent accuracy made the Razorbacks only the third team since 1999 to beat Kentucky despite such poor marksmanship.

UK Coach John Calipari cited an intangible that goes back to the dawn of competition.

"We weren't as tough as them," he said. "We didn't play as hard as them. And they wanted it more than us. That team usually wins. They deserved to win."

Arkansas used its trademark pressure to take charge early in the second half and roll to its first victory over Kentucky by a double-digit margin since the 2000 Southeastern Conference Tournament. Arkansas had beaten UK only twice before by double digits.

Kentucky's sloppy, at times meek, ball-handling invigorated the Razorbacks, who enjoyed a 30-2 advantage in points off turnovers.

Calipari marveled that despite it all Kentucky had a chance to win. With 15 of the turnovers coming in the game's first 23 minutes, the Cats fell behind by as much as 12 points before the first television timeout of the second half. Somehow, UK rallied to within 45-40. More than 14 minutes remained.

Then BJ Young blunted UK's momentum by driving by reserve guard Jarrod Polson for a layup.

After an all-freshman turnover (Archie Goodwin zigged when Alex Poythress zagged with a pass), Coty Clarke beat UK to an offensive rebound. That was one of Arkansas' whopping 20 offensive rebounds. His three-point play rebuilt a double-digit lead.

One more turnover — one of five times the Cats coughed it up simply trying to inbound the ball — signaled surrender.

"As bad as we were, we had a chance to win," Calipari said. "But they never turned on the fight. And that disappointed me.

"Like you can play bad for three-quarters of a game. Who cares? Because all they're going to remember is the last 10 minutes. But we never really got to that point."

Kentucky fell to 20-9 overall and 11-5 in the SEC. The latter dropped the Cats into a second-place tie and enabled Florida to clinch at least a share of the league's regular-season championship. The Gators can claim the title outright by beating visiting Vanderbilt on Wednesday.

In a homecoming marked by taunts and boos, Goodwin led UK with 14 points. Cauley-Stein added 13 points and 10 rebounds.

Arkansas, now 17-1 in home games this season, improved to 18-11 overall and 9-7 in the SEC.

Marshawn Powell led Arkansas with 15 points. Clarke added 14 and Young 13.

Neither team distinguished itself in the first half. Kentucky committed 10 turnovers inside the first 15 minutes. Arkansas made only eight of its first 26 shots, many not heavily contested.

"We weren't tough enough with the ball," Cauley-Stein said of the turnovers. "Instead of taking our time, we were playing hot potato with the ball a couple times."

The Cats could not — and did not — express surprise that Arkansas applied plenty of full-court pressure. That is the signature strategy of Coach Mike Anderson's so-called "fastest 40 minutes of basketball" style. The waves of defenders made the minutes seem like hours for Kentucky.

"We knew it was going to happen," Cauley-Stein said. "We knew they were going to foul us, and the refs weren't going to call anything."

Calipari acknowledged that his freshman-oriented team faced a difficult challenge at Arkansas, which enjoyed the support of an enthusiastic sellout crowd.

"No one's won here," he said. "It's not like we were expecting to come in and win by 20. We knew it'd be a good game.

"And," he added with perfect comedic timing, "it wasn't."


Thursday

Kentucky at Georgia

When: 7 p.m. TV: ESPN

Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227 Twitter: @JerryTipton Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com

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