Jaylen Barford did Kentucky a favor Saturday night.
With 14:40 left in the second half of Kentucky’s 97-71 victory, the Arkansas guard was called for charging over Kentucky’s Isaiah Briscoe, then appeared to step on the fallen Briscoe as he was slowly turning to go back up the court.
“It was just a play in the game that just happened,” Barford said afterward. “I didn’t mean to step on him.”
Barford was asked if Briscoe thought Barford meant to step on him.
“I don’t know what he thought, but I didn’t do it on purpose,” Barford said.
Still, UK’s De’Aaron Fox took exception. He pushed Barford, who pushed back, which earned both players technical fouls and lead to another on-court scrum a few minutes later when Arkansas center Moses Kingsley appeared to hit Kentucky center Bam Adebayo in the face while trying to block a shot.
Again, tempers flared and all of a sudden there was a maniac John Calipari on the floor, trying to separate combatants and yelling at his own players.
“These kids are so young, their first reaction is they get bumped or pushed, they want to push back,” Calipari said. “You can’t. You put your arms up and you walk away. It was a great lesson.”
It was a great lesson, because it will happen again.
Through three conference games, Kentucky is showing itself to be more than a leap ahead of the rest of the SEC. Yes, the Cats haven’t played Florida and South Carolina. Yet, both the Gators and Gamecocks are also unbeaten in conference play. Florida is currently ranked. South Carolina was formerly ranked. Neither, however, is believed to be in Kentucky’s class.
So if teams can’t match UK’s skill level, speed and production, they will look for alternate ways to slow down the freight train. One option is to try and kick sand in the face of the younger Cats. Rattle them. Try to knock them off their game.
Arkansas didn’t try to control the pace Saturday night. That’s not what the Razorbacks do. “We’re not going to hold the ball,” head coach Mike Anderson said afterward.
Still, the Razorbacks had enough muscle and enough veteran players to try and throw their weight around. Barford is a junior college transfer. So too is guard Daryl Macon. Kingsley, the SEC’s preseason Player of the Year, checks in at 6-foot-10, 230 pounds. Power forward Trey Thompson is 6-9, 265.
Few will try and mess with Adebayo, UK’s 6-10, 260-pound center. Edrice goes by “Bam” for a reason. But the Cats start a three-guard lineup. Wenyen Gabriel, a sometimes starter, obviously needs more time in the weight room. The ultra-fast Fox looks and plays like a whippet.
It stands to reason that opponents will try and test Kentucky’s toughness. Desperate times call for desperate measures.
“Well, let me say this,” said Calipari afterward. “My team won’t be bullied. This isn’t that kind of team. The issue is it gets you more focused, sharper, and more disciplined. That’s what good teams are.”
Opponents attempting to push around the Cats do so at their own peril, said Adebayo.
“When they get physical, we just come together as brothers and say, ‘You’ve got to fight through it,’” said the center. “Going on in the conference, I can see them being more physical with us, but we just keep fighting and hopefully we’ll come out with a win.”
Is it more fun to play that way?
“The crowd gets into it, we get into it,” said Adebayo with a slight smile. “It just becomes more fun because we’re both fighting to win.”
Running out of ways to beat Kentucky, look for more opponents to try and use their muscle.
Kentucky at Vanderbilt
7 p.m. Tuesday (ESPN)
Kentucky men’s basketball 2016-17
Stephen F Austin
vs Michigan State
vs Arizona St
vs North Carolina