UK enters Saturday's 1 o'clock tilt with the Arkansas Razorbacks (13-9, 1-8) needing a win if the 'Cats harbor any hopes of securing the all-important first or second place spot in the SEC East. All-important because because the top-two finishers in the Division get a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament. And with UK, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Florida all sitting at 6-3 in the league, it stands to reason that the race for East supremacy will come down to the final weekend of the regular season. It's close folks.
Adding additional urgency to the 'Cats predicament are the three remaining road games against an always tough Vanderbilt, nouveau riche South Carolina, and revenge-minded Florida. Couple those tough tests with home games against the leagues best team, LSU, and Tennessee, the 'Cats game today is as must-win as they come.
Hog head man John Pelphrey bit the proverbial bullet and indefinitely suspended his starting point guard, and second leading scorer Courtney Fortson (13.9 points per game in SEC play). No reason for the suspension has been given, but Pelphrey's statement regarding the situation read like he has grown quite bored with the freshman's behavior. Possibly off-setting Pelphrey's loss of Fortson is UK's apparent loss (at least for this game) of Patrick Patterson. The Kentucky big man sprained his ankle in Tuesday's Wildcat victory over Florida, and is listed as day-to-day.
What's up with the 'Backs?
One doesn't have to dig deep to discover why the Hogs started the season 12-1, and have followed up that fine beginning by going a woeful 1-8 in SEC play. It all begins with a comparison of the Hogs out of conference statistics, compared to their SEC numbers:
Arkansas - Pre-Conference Arkansas - SEC
Points -- 81.5 67.3
Field Goal% -- 46.7 41.9
3-pt% -- 37.9 28.7
FT% -- 65.6 63.8
Rebounds -- +7.7 -2.9
Off. Reb. % -- 41.2 33.8
Assists -- 15.0 11.1
Turnovers -- 14.0 13.7
Steals -- 7.4 7.4
Blocks -- 3.6 2.7
Ark. Opp's - Pre-Conference Ark. Opp's - SEC
Points -- 68.3 76.8
Field Goal% -- 41.3 45.3
3-pt% -- 33.1 38.6
Free Throw% -- 61.2 71.6
Rebounds -- -7.7 +2.9
Off. Reb.% -- 28.6 36.2
Assists -- 15.9 16.0
Turnovers -- 15.6 13.3
Steals -- 5.7 6.0
Blocks -- 4.5 4.7
Additionally, Arkansas has not held an SEC opponent to under 70 points. Aggravating their inability to defend: The Hogs have scored over 70 points in only three of their nine SEC games.
The Razorbacks have lost their eight league games by an average of 11.8 points. They have also lost three SEC home games: Mississippi St. (70-56), Auburn (73-51), and Tennessee (74-72).
For a closer look at how and why the Hogs have come up short in league play, here's a few items of interest from each of Arkansas's SEC contests:
- (H) vs. Mississippi State - 70-56 loss -- MSU made 11 of 27 three-point attempts (40.7%), while Arkansas made only 3 of 22 (13.6%). Bulldog guards Dee Bost, Barry Stewart, and Phil Turner combined to make 8 of 16 three-point shots. The Hogs were down only two at the half, but shot only 32.1% in the second half. The loss ruined a double-double by Arkansas forward Michael Washington (18 points and 15 rebounds).
- (A) vs. Ole Miss - 74-65 loss -- Ole Miss made seven of 17 threes (41.2%), and Arkansas made only 3 of 15 (20.0%). Five Rebels recorded at least three assists, and as a team they dished out 20 dimes on 24 made baskets; an incredible 83.0% assist rate.
- (A) vs. Florida - 80-65 loss -- Nick Calathes had his way with the 'Backs (sound familiar?). The Gator guard scored 28 points (6-10 three-pointers), and had nine assists. As a team UFA made 11-30 three-pointers (36.7%), and Arkansas made only two of 14 (14.3%). Florida was up only three at halftime, but shot 55.2% in the second half. Michael Washington had another strong game, scoring 21 points and grabbing eight rebounds. Courtney Fortson had eight turnovers.
- (H) vs. Auburn - 73-51 loss -- Arkansas shot only 30.2% for the game, and an anemic 20.6% in the second half. The Hogs three starting guards (Fortson, Rotnei Clarke and Stefan Welsh) combined to shoot 12 of 39 from the field (30.8%). Auburn made 10 of 25 three-point tries (40.0%). Auburn's Korvotney Barber recorded a double-double with 15 points and 18 rebounds.
- (H) vs. Alabama - 89-80 win -- Arkansas made nine of 21 three-point attempts, with Rotnei Clarke going 6 of 10 from beyond the arc. Michael Washington had another good game, making seven of 10 shots, and scoring 17 points.
- (A) vs. LSU - 79-69 loss -- Tiger freshman guard Bo Spencer made five of six three-pointers and scored 21 points. As a team LSU made eight of 16 threes.
- (H) vs. Tennessee - 74-72 loss -- Heart-breaker. UT point guard Bobby Maze drilled a jumper with five seconds remaining to win the game for the Vols. Arkansas got off two shots in the final five seconds.
- (H) vs. Mississippi State - 86-77 loss -- Once again MSU's guards had their way with the Razorbacks; Bost, Stewart, and Turner scored 63 of the Bulldog's 86 points. Arkansas did make 12 of 25 three-pointers (48.0%), but the MSU 'Back-killer trio of guards made 16 of 29 treys (55.2%).
- (A) vs. Auburn - 75-62 loss -- The Razorbacks were up 39-31 at halftime, but shot only 26.7% in the second half. Auburn outscored Arkansas 44-23 in the second stanza. Arkansas actually found themselves leading 60-59 with only 6:36 left in the game, but scored only three points the rest of the way.
Not shooting well, and barely defending is a coach-killing combination: In SEC play Arkansas averages taking 20.9 three-point attempts per game. They make only 28.7% of those shots, while their opponents are taking an average of 23.3 treys per game, and making the trifectas at a 38.6% rate.
Razorback Personnel (stats are from SEC games only)
Courtney Fortson: 5'11" 180 lb, freshman guard -- I'm including Fortson's numbers so we know what the Hogs are missing. In SEC play Fortson was averaging 13.9 points, 5.5 assists, and 4.6 rebounds per game. The former UK target was shooting 41.0% from the field, and 18.2% from three-point range (6-33). Over the last four games Fortson was averaging 16.5 points, and 6.8 assists per game. He scored in double-figures in 19 of 22 games.
In pre-conference play Fortson averaged 15.1 points, 7.1 assists, and 5.8 rebounds per game. He shot 45.1% from the field, and 37.8% from beyond the arc.
Michael Washington: 6'9" 239 lb junior forward/center -- Washington is averaging 14.8 points, 8.9 rebounds per game. He's shooting 52.0% from the field, and 58.1% from the free throw line. Washington has recorded nine double-doubles this season, six came against solid competition: Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi State, Florida, LSU and Tennessee. Washington scored three points versus UK last year.
In pre-conference play Washington averaged 17.8 points, and 10.3 rebounds per game. He made 60.4% of his shots, and 61.6% of his free throws.
Marcus Britt: 6'3" 198 lb sophomore guard -- Britt will more than likely take over the point guard duties from Fortson for the Razorbacks. He averages 2.8 points, .6 assists, and 1.4 rebounds per game. He makes 40.0% of his shots (1-5 from the three-point line). Britt has made all eight of his free throws. Britt has one double-digit scoring game to his credit; versus Northwestern State (15 points). He delivered a season high six assists against Florida A&M.
In pre-conference play Britt averaged 4.0 points, 1.2 assists, and 1.9 rebounds per game. He shot 50.0% from the field, and 50.0% from beyond the arc.
Stefan Welsh: 6'3" 185 lb junior guard -- Welsh averages 10.7 points, 2.0 assists and 2.8 rebounds per game. He makes 35.4% of his field gaol attempts, and 33.3% of his threes (19-57). Welsh has four double-digit scoring games to his credit. He's averaging 16.7 points per game in his last three outings. Welsh scored five points last year versus UK.
In pre-conference games Welsh averaged 14.0 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game. He shot 41.4% from the field and 34.3% from beyond the arc.
Rotnei Clarke: 6'0" 184 lb freshman guard -- The former apple of Billy Gillispie's eyes is averaging 9.2 points, 1.7 rebounds, and 1.0 assist per game. Clarke shoots 38.5% from the field, and 31.7% from the three-point line (19-60). Clarke poured in 26 points in the Razorback victory over Alabama, and he's been in double-figures in five SEC games. But, alas, he's been shut-out in three SEC contests. Clarke has only taken four free throws in nine SEC games (he's 4-4).
In pre-conference games Clarke averaged 12.2 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 1.0 assist per game. H made 40.5% of his field goal tries, and 42.5% of his threes.
Jason Henry: 6'6" 189 lb freshman swing -- Henry is averaging 7.3 points, and 5.0 rebounds per game. He makes 40.4% of his shots, and 33.3% of his three-point attempts (7-21). Henry has posted four double-digit scoring games in SEC play. His best game to date is a 19 point, eight rebound performance against Ole Miss.
In pre-conference play Henry averaged only 7.8 minutes per game. He averaged 3.8 points, and 1.5 rebounds per game. He shot 38.6%, and 31.6% from the three-point line.
Michael Sanchez: 6'8" 236 lb redshirt freshman forward -- Another one-time UK target, Sanchez is averaging 4.9 points, and 2.9 rebounds per game. He's shooting 39.4% from the field, and 58.1% from the free throw line. His best game came against Alabama, when he scored 13 points and grabbed five rebounds.
In pre-conference play Sanchez averaged 6.9 points, and 6.5 rebounds per game. He shot 47.5% from the field, and 74.4% from the free throw line.
Gary Ervin, Sonny Weems, Patrick Beverly, Steven Hill, Charles Thomas, Darian Townes, and Vincent Hunter all played for Arkansas last year in their game with Kentucky. Of this years Razorbacks, only Michael Washington and Stefan Welsh have played a single minute against UK -- a total of 33 in last years 63-58 Wildcat win.
John Pelphrey's squad is young, so young in fact that ...
... I look for UK to attack. I look for UK to be aggressive. I look for UK to exploit the Razorback defensive deficiencies: Perimeter and transition defense. Patrick Patterson's absence, if he in fact does not play, should not change Billy Gillispie's game-plan. UK will still want to get Jodie Meeks some early transition looks, and when in the half-court, set some actual screens that attain the desired result ... a moderately open shot. UK's supporting cast of characters will hopefully take a cue from Tuesday nights triumph over the Gators and play with confidence, desire, and intensity. Yeah, I'm talking about you, Kevin Galloway, Michael Porter, and Josh Harrellson.
Courtney Fortson's absence causes John Pelphrey a much deeper dilemma than the one Billy Gillispie faces. The freshman guard has been Pelphrey's point since day one; he averaged 32 minutes per game in SEC play. He struggled shooting the ball once league competition started, but he was the undeniable leader of the offense.
As noted, taking over for Fortson at the point will probably be Marcus Britt. Britt, averaging 16.7 minutes per game in SEC play, should be the recipient of the three P's -- Pressure, pressure, pressure. Arkansas has been having a hard time scoring, so taking the newly anointed point guard out of his comfort zone will go a long way toward securing victory for the 'Cats. Remember guys; make Britt go where he doesn't want to go.
Losing this game is unacceptable ... at least to the Selection Committee.
For those who care: UK has won eight straight over Arkansas, three straight in Fayetteville ... UK's last loss to the Razorbacks came in February of '01 ... Arkansas has an RPI of 109, UK's sits at 61 ... Some teams currently in front of UK in the RPI -- Virginia Commonwealth (60), George Mason (59), Tulsa (58), Western Kentucky (57), Creighton (55), Arizona (51), Cincinnati (50), San Diego State (49), Davidson (46), Virginia Tech (45), Temple (40), Oklahoma State (39), UAB (35), and Siena (29) ... Tennessee has the SEC's highest RPI at 23, mostly due to their #3 rated schedule ... Former Ole Miss and Arizona State head coach Rob Evans is on John Pelphrey's staff.
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats, beat the Hogs!