John Clay: It was a thrilling end to a game fit for a pigsty

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJanuary 15, 2014 

Arkansas guard Michael Qualls slammed in the deciding basket with .2 seconds left in overtime Tuesday as Arkansas defeated No. 13 Kentucky, 87-85, in overtime.

PHOTO BY MARK CORNELISON | STAFF — Herald-Leader

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — It just goes to show you don't have to play good basketball to end up with dramatic basketball.

At the end of regulation, Kentucky's Andrew Harrison rose up from the right corner with 1.2 seconds left to hit a cold-blooded three to send the Cats and Arkansas to overtime on Tuesday night in Bud Walton Arena.

Then at the end of overtime, Arkansas' Michael Qualls jammed home a last-second three-point attempt by the Razorbacks, giving the home team an 87-85 victory in what had to be one of the most thrilling endings to some of the ugliest basketball you would ever (not) wish to see.

Kentucky shot 50 percent or better for much of the game — while Arkansas shot 38 percent for the night — and still lost. UK outrebounded the Razorbacks 50-32 and still lost. Arkansas made just six of 21 three-point shots and won.

It was that kind of game, one that Arkansas needed desperately to win after starting conference play 0-2 with losses to Texas A&M and at home to Florida.

For Mike Anderson's club, this was nearly the same as Saturday, when Scottie Wilbekin's basket for Florida sent the game into overtime and the Razorbacks lost to the Gators.

This time, Arkansas pulled it out. After Harrison's three sent the game into the extra period, UK went ahead 76-74 on an Aaron Harrison basket, but Arkansas tied it at 76 and then again at 78.

It was Qualls that put the home team ahead 80-78 with 2:41 left in overtime. Kentucky was called for an over-and-back on an in-bounds play and Qualls made one of two free throws and UK could not catch up until James Young's three tied it again at 85 with 11 seconds left.

Ah, but then, as was probably fitting, Arkansas threw up a heave that somehow Qualls was able to follow in for the score.

On a night when the Cats dominated the boards, they couldn't get the one rebound they had to have.

There were too many fouls called. And too many bad shots, especially for Arkansas. There were too many missed free throws. There were too many turnovers, especially for Kentucky (17). For much of the night, they took bad basketball and threw it over the edge.

What's that about winning ugly? Both teams would have easily taken an ugly win.

UK shot 68 percent the first half and trailed by two points at intermission. Why?

Kentucky suffered from rampant ball security issues. It committed four turnovers in the first 4:09, seven turnovers in the first 8:30.

It was a sloppy, stop-and-start, painful-to-watch first half that included 28 called fouls and 38 free throws, of which just 26 were made free throws. The Cats were just 13 of 22 from the foul line. Yes, Kentucky shot 68 percent from the floor in the first half, but just 59 percent from the line.

The Cats committed 10 turnovers in a first half that included eight ties.

It was also a first half in which officials spent more time huddling than the Arkansas football team.

John Adams, the national director of officials, was at the game, and the crew of Ron Groover, James Breeding and Roger Ayers appeared determined to show him how often they could blow their whistles. The game had no flow, no groove, no rhythm.

Start and stop. Or stop and start. Until the end.

Give Calipari's young club credit for having the fortitude to hang in there until the end, to make the play at the end of regulation to get the game into overtime, then the shot (Young's) near the end of overtime to make Arkansas go out and win it, even if it was on something of a freak play.

But then maybe we should have expected that sort of ending on this night.

A night of hard-to-watch basketball that ended with such a dramatic finish.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com.

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