Kentucky's dependence on attacking the rim resulted in many drives, precious few successful jump shots and a 71-67 overtime loss to Arkansas Thursday night.
Willie Cauley-Stein picked a good time to re-emerge as a force around the basket. His 16 points and 13 rebounds, the latter tying a career-high, sparked UK's dominance in the paint.
But a one-armed fighter, even one with knockout power, will have trouble winning every fight.
"We took two steps back tonight," said UK Coach John Calipari, who abandoned the recent script of accentuating the positive to the point of putting a higher priority on learning from a loss to now-No. 1 Florida.
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"Against Florida, there was so much to be encouraged about," Calipari said. "This one, it's almost like you're waiting (and wondering) 'What's going to happen in the next game?'"
Kentucky, which fell to 21-7 overall and 11-4 in the Southeastern Conference, next plays Saturday at last-place South Carolina. UK's loss enabled Florida to clinch the league's regular-season championship outright.
While Kentucky struggled to make perimeter shots — and in some cases even take such shots — Arkansas met its goal of bolstering its NCAA Tournament hopes. By winning at Kentucky for the first time in 20 years, the Razorbacks improved to 19-9 overall and 8-7 in the Southeastern Conference.
Kentucky led 60-56 with barely a minute left in regulation.
After Alandise Harris broke free for a layup, Andrew Harrison failed to connect on a lob to Alex Poy-thress.
Two free throws by Rashad Madden tied it with 29.6 seconds left. Now wise about Kentucky's drive-drive-drive attack, Coty Clarke came over as a help defender and blocked Andrew Harrison's — what else? — driving shot.
"We knew that a part of their offense is attack-attack-attack," Clarke said. "... Our main focus was put a body on them. Rebound. And go the other way."
Arkansas struggled with the second item. UK outrebounded the Hogs 47-38 and grabbed a season-high 26 offensive rebounds. In eight earlier games this season, the Cats did not get that many defensive rebounds.
Help defenders blocked two of Kentucky's shots early in overtime.
Three times Arkansas took three-point leads in overtime, the third thanks to two Clarke free throws with 2:24 left.
Arkansas made all 16 of its free throws, while Kentucky made only 12 of 22.
Calipari recoiled from the suggestion that the game came down simply to free throws.
"No, no," he said. "They should have been up 18 in the first half. We had a couple no-shows."
Kentucky trailed 37-30 at halftime ... on merit.
Despite all the recent happy talk, UK's powder-puff perimeter attack continued to grow weaker. The Cats did not make a three-point shot in the first half. Maybe more telling, the Cats only took four shots outside the paint the first 20 minutes. One of those was a three-point miss by Aaron Harrison to beat the 35-second shot clock.
Kentucky did not take a shot from outside the paint until Andrew Harrison missed from the elbow area at the 11:39 mark. UK's only points outside the paint (or free throws) was a pull-up leaner by Andrew Harrison with 10:40 left.
Those looking for omens got one on the game's first basket. Michael Qualls, the hero in Arkansas' overtime victory over Kentucky last month, got the scoring started with a tip-in.
With UK leading 13-11, Arkansas went on a 15-2 run. Andrew Harrison's leaner represented UK's only points as Arkansas took a 26-15 lead.
Calipari tried several substitutions to change the game's tone. Jon Hood, who hasn't played since sparking the Cats at Mississippi State, got in. In all, 11 UK players played in the first half.
Still, the Cats faced their largest halftime deficit since trailing Michigan State 44-32 on Nov. 12.
Arkansas, which improved its record to 17-2 when leading at halftime, stayed steady in a Rupp Arena Cat-mosphere thick with desperation.