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Arkansas at Kentucky -- After action report

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I think I am getting used to games like this.  Even when CBS lost their feed and their MCS likely flopped over to, of all things, a Duke game, I kept my cool, walked up to the entertainment center and flipped on WHAS radio.  My wife nearly had an apoplectic stroke -- unlike me, she hates Duke with every fiber of her being.  I merely dislike them intensely.

Kudos to John Pelphrey and a game Arkansas Razorback team for coming in to Rupp Arena and playing us as tough as any team has this year.  Quite honestly, I thought they played well enough to win, but the boys in blue just refused to let them.  And they have done this three times in a row, and six times in a row before the nasty trip to Nashville.  It is impossible to do anything anymore during a Wildcats game for fear of missing something huge, especially in the second half.  Every Kentucky game this year comes down to a possession or two, and it doesn't seem to matter who the opponent is.

I must say, I am done criticizing this Kentucky team.  No team since the Unforgettables has shown this much ventricular fortitude, and I am nearly numb with awe at the way these guys find ways to win.  Today, it was a little bit of everything, including an amazing stop of a Sonny Weems 6-footer near the end by Joe Crawford, and denying Weems the ball for much of the last 4 minutes.  Bradley did what he always does -- hit big shots, none bigger than the pull-up jumper on the right side of the lane to give the Cats the lead.  Jasper hit a huge three and played excellent defense.  Perry Stevenson had 8 points and seven rebounds.  Patrick Patterson was, well, Patrick Patterson with a huge double double.  Ramon Harris helped out with tough defense and rebounding.  It was truly a team effort.

Arkansas failed to exploit their strength, which was their size and rebounding, and the Wildcats simply dominated the glass.  Amazingly enough, it nearly didn't matter -- Sonny Weems morphed into a poor man's Michael Jordan at half time and began to nail threes and circus dunks on Kentucky.  For a moment there, I thought the line on the Cats would read, much like a racing form, "lacked late response."  Wrong.  The late response was just a bit later, and more dramatic than others.  Instead of clinging to a lead by the skin of their fingernails, the Wildcats actually came back from behind to get the victory.

How did I do on my keys to the game?

  • Ballhandling -- Arkansas depends on turnovers for both offensive and defensive efficiency.  Deny them that, and UK helps its cause.
    Check.  Kentucky wound up -1 on turnovers, with only 12
  • Good start -- Good starts seem critical to Kentucky's success
    Ah, well, not so much.  They had a fair start and didn't get down big.
  • Perimeter shooting -- We can expect to see some zone out of Arkansas, and double teams on Patterson.  We need to hit the jumper.
    Not really so much here either.  33% from three, 40% overall, eFG% of only 43%
  • Take it to the rack --  Arkansas is a good shot-blocking team, but like UK, they are foul prone.  The Cats need to get to the line.
    The Cats did this in spades.  I have never seen Joe and Ramel take the ball to the rack more, and UK did get to the line.
  • Rebounding -- Arkansas is a much better rebounding team than Kentucky.  We must find a way to keep them from killing us on the glass.
    Wow!  38-23 UK, including an amazing 39+% offensive rebound percentage.

Arkansas outshot us by 7% in eFG% and lost.  That does not happen often, and you have to give credit to Arkansas for doing everything right but one -- rebounding the basketball.  The Hogs are the 4th best rebounding team in the league, and they got pummeled on the glass by an embarrassing margin.  I have no idea why, other than incredible hustle by the Cats.

We now stand 15-10 overall and 9-3 in conference.  With 4 big games remaining, we now control our own destiny when it comes to the NCAA tournament.  Win out, and we're in for sure.  Win all but one, and we are very likely in.  Win all but 2, and we still have a good shot if we do well in the tournament.  The Cats' NCAA fortunes have taken a dramatic turn for the better today, and I don't think anyone would have believed it in December.