FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Tuesday night's game provided an enduring memory for those who watched. But Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson scoffed at the notion that an 87-85 overtime loss might leave a long-lasting scar on Kentucky's team.
"I don't think there's a negative," he said. "They fought. They were in position. They're a young basketball team. They're learning."
Anderson saw a game featuring punch-counterpunch. Each delivering and absorbing psychological blows.
"We're just fortunate," he said. "We had the ball last, and we made a play."
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Michael Qualls dunked teammate Ky Madden's three-point miss with two-tenths of a second left to win the game.
UK Coach John Calipari noted that James Young did not impede Qualls' path to the rim and place in Arkansas basketball history.
"He's a freshman," Calipari said. "That's what freshmen do."
Or, in this case, don't do. But Anderson and Qualls suggested that Young was more an unlucky victim of fate than a player guilty of a rookie mistake.
"It just happened so fast," Anderson said. "Think about it. When (Madden) shot the ball, there was, like, two seconds left. When the shot is taken, you're thinking the game is over with."
Qualls echoed that sentiment.
"I probably would have done the same thing if one of their guys was shooting," he said. "Just looking up. I saw him look up. But I wasn't worried about whether he was there or not. I was going to go for it."
Qualls beat not only Young, but also Andrew Harrison and Julius Randle to the ball.
The play revived memories of Lorenzo Charles dunking an air ball at the buzzer to give North Carolina State a stunning victory over heavily favored Houston in the 1983 national championship game.
Kentucky and Arkansas saluted each other's resilience.
Arkansas seemingly had the game won in regulation until Andrew Harrison hit a three-pointer with 1.2 seconds left to force overtime. If that wasn't jolting enough, the Cats scored the first basket of overtime. After Arkansas tied it, Kentucky again took a two-point lead.
"Let's give Arkansas credit," Calipari said. "They didn't go away either. They had a chance to fold."
Kentucky also refused to yield. Twice the Cats hit clutch three-point baskets. The first by Harrison was set up by Young's grace under pressure. Trailing 74-71, the Cats wanted their most prolific three-point shooter to take the shot. But two defenders rushed to Young, whose "smartness" led him to pass to Harrison, Anderson said.
With Arkansas ahead 83-80 inside the final 40 seconds of overtime, Young swished a three-pointer from the top of the key to set the stage for Qualls.
"That's what good teams do," Anderson said. "They answered the call. To our guys' credit, we didn't panic."
Arkansas players talked about learning from Saturday's disappointing home loss to Florida. The Hogs led by seven going down the stretch of the second half in that game.
"Tough losing a game we thought we were in control of," Anderson said. "At the same time, it was a lesson learned."
As the teams left the bench area for overtime Tuesday, Anderson called his players back for one more inspirational message.
"Let's show not only ourselves, but everybody else we learned something from the last time," he said he told his players.
That now becomes Kentucky's task. Learn from defeat and try to do better next time.
Calipari lamented Randle saving a ball back into Arkansas' offensive end. The UK coach also second-guessed himself for having Jarrod Polson rather than Dominique Hawkins in the game late when retrieving a loose ball and gaining a possession meant so much.
Perhaps lost in the tumult was how Kentucky competed. In earlier games, Calipari noted how the Cats needed to shake off adversity and keep battling.
"I'm proud of my team," he said. "They didn't quit. They kept playing."
Said Young, "It hurts a lot because everybody can see we're getting better as a team. That's what matters."
Oh, those refs
Players and Calipari politely but unmistakably noted how the referees did Kentucky no favors.
"Certain things were not going our way," Randle said. "But we're not making excuses."
Young was more direct. "We didn't get a lot of calls our way," he said, "and it was hard to find a rhythm."
Calipari said Randle "got whacked" to the point of "sumo wrestling and running."
The UK coach also noted that Arkansas shot one more free throw (41-40) than UK and got whistled for two fewer fouls (31-29)."First team we played that took more free throws than us," he said. "Usually we take 20 more than the other team."
Actually, North Carolina shot 45 free throws to Kentucky's 43.
But overall, UK had shot 214 more free throws than the opposition: Or, on average 33.3 per game to the opponent's 19.1.