Just before tipoff, Kentucky handed Maci Morris a commemorative ball to celebrate scoring her 1,000th career point a few games ago.
The junior guard tossed it toward the bench and then added a few more to her career totals, scoring the first six points in the Cats’ 78-57 victory over Arkansas on Thursday night.
“Just knowing my team needs me to score, and that’s my main job, so I try to be efficient at that,” said the matter-of-fact Morris, who was plenty efficient, making seven of her 11 attempts to score a game-high 20 points in the victory.
Morris’ coach called it “clicking on all cylinders,” but Arkansas’ coach was a little more descriptive.
“I thought she was brilliant tonight,” Coach Mike Neighbors said of Morris, who also had five rebounds. “She just kind of let the game come to her and managed it. She didn’t press, didn’t over shot-hunt.”
But perhaps the best development for the Cats was Morris had plenty of help at Memorial Coliseum.
Five different players scored in double figures, including all three freshmen forwards in Tatyana Wyatt (11 points), KeKe McKinney (11 points, four rebounds) and Dorie Harrison (10 points, four rebounds).
“It’s really nice,” Morris said of the freshmen contributing. “It gets a lot of pressure off me, too. It makes me happy seeing them be successful. … It’s been a lot of fun seeing them grow.”
Senior Alyssa Rice made all six shots she attempted and added 13 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots. The Cats outrebounded Arkansas 44-31.
Wyatt was especially key for the Cats when things got tight.
Kentucky (13-14, 5-8 Southeastern Conference) twice was able to grab double-digit leads before Arkansas clawed back in it.
The Razorbacks did it midway through the third quarter, scoring 11 unanswered — including three straight three-pointers — to even it up 45-45 before the Cats responded with a 12-2 run that included eight points from Wyatt.
The freshman, who had missed significant time coming back from concussion protocol, hit two three-pointers in that stretch. She made three of them on Thursday at Memorial Coliseum.
“Tatyana Wyatt kind of took over, got some big shots, got them going, gave them some momentum,” Neighbors said of the forward, who had made just 10 three-pointers all season.
That big run was a big deal for a team that had lost three in a row coming into this game. “We needed a victory very badly.”
“Good job of the team digging down and adjusting to a very hot team that can get your head and get real discouraged,” Mitchell said of the Cats, who made 66.7 percent of their shots in the fourth quarter and 48.3 percent for the game. “We were missing layups and they were making threes. It could’ve gotten away from us there.”
It could’ve gotten away, but it didn’t.
Kentucky was able to hold the Razorbacks without a field goal for nearly six minutes during that big run. The Hogs made just 25.7 percent of their shots in the second half.
Fatigue played a role, said Neighbors, whose short-handed team had to play an unexpected game on Monday after a weather delay and then had to travel to Lexington with one less day of rest.
Arkansas (12-14, 3-10) was paced by Jailyn Mason’s 16 points, including four three-pointers. Malica Monk added 14 points and five assists.
With three games left in the regular season, Kentucky goes on the road to play No. 8 South Carolina on Sunday and then to Ole Miss a few days later. The Cats will meet No. 2 and unbeaten Mississippi State in the finale at Memorial Coliseum on Feb. 25.
Kentucky at No. 8 South Carolina
3 p.m. Sunday (SEC Network)