clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Kenny Payne recaps tough road victory at Arkansas

This just might be the spark the Cats need this season.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky Wildcats head coach John Calipari finally pushed the right buttons on Saturday afternoon, creating his own fireworks with a second-half ejection, and the Wildcat offense responded with an explosive late run to knock off Arkansas 73-66 at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

With the game tied at 44, Calipari was tossed with 8:19 remaining as Arkansas hit 3-of-4 free throws on the double-technical to take a 47-44 lead. After the two teams traded baskets, the Wildcats then went on a 15-0 run after Immanuel Quickley drilled a three-pointer to push the lead to 59-49 with 4:10 remaining and a Keion Brooks basket extended the lead to 61-49 before Arkansas could finally get back on the board.

In total, the Cats went on a 17-2 run after the ejection and a Nick Richards dunk off a lob pass from Tyrese Maxey was the exclamation point as the Cats led 63-51 with just 1:58 left in regulation. Kentucky sealed the win over the final two minutes, going 10-for-12 from the free throw line.

Kentucky, under the guidance of associate head Coach Kenny Payne and assistant Tony Barbee, went to a zone defense after Calipari’s ejection and limited the Razorbacks to just 1-of-9 from three-point range. Kentucky also turned in a much better effort on the boards, out-rebounding Arkansas 47-29 after getting manhandled in the recent loss at South Carolina.

Richards led the Wildcats in scoring with 19 points and nine rebounds. Quickley finished with a double-double that included 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Hagans also had 13 points and contributed seven rebounds and six assists despite sitting out much of the second half with four fouls.

Kentucky, the 10th-ranked team in the country, is now 13-4 overall and 4-1 in the SEC. The Wildcats return home to face Georgia on Tuesday night at Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center.

After a much-needed road win, Payne recapped the win with media members in Fayetteville, courtesy of UK Athletics.

Associate Head Coach Kenny Payne

On whether Calipari wanted to get ejected …

”No, I think it happened so fast we couldn’t really react to it. Unfortunate, for me especially, having to coach the game at a critical point where the game is turning in their favor, but these kids are resilient. They deserve all the credit. When you come to a school like Kentucky it’s not talked about a lot, but you have to overcome adversity. We teach it, we talk about it every day. Things aren’t going to go your way in a game, just like life. How are you going to handle it? Who are you? What are you about? You may get a bad whistle, you may not. The team may play hot, they may play out of their minds. You’ve gotta find a way to get a win. We talk about this from the day we recruit them until the day they’re in it. And so to see these kids fight through and come out the way they did is really gratifying.”

On outscoring Arkansas 15-2 after Calipari’s ejection …

”What we talked about was, look, it’s crunch time. It’s an execution game. So the last thing they’re expecting us to do is to rebound and push the ball up the court. Well, that’s what we did. We rebound the ball, we fly up first and then if we don’t have it we’re going to execute. By doing that, we got a couple of layups, we got a wide-open 3 and it opened the game up for us to give us a cushion.”

On how big of a mountain they climbed to win this game …

”I think it was a huge mountain. I think first of all, Coach Barbee doing the zone stuff was unbelievable. It gave us the ability to play Ashton Hagans with four fouls, which we need him on the floor. But on the other end, we ran a play called—it’s Ashton’s play where he gets to make decisions and like a true point guard he made the right decisions, which allowed the lead to go to 15-2 in that spurt.”

On the lift they got from Johnny Juzang and Keion Brooks …

”The whole time I’m telling Keion, ‘You have to grow up today. So I’m not taking you out. I need to know that you can get through this. I need to know that—you’re taking a test. How are you going to do on this test?’ He passed. I’m so proud of him because he’s had a hard road. The pressure that he’s been under to perform is a lot. The game is coming fast. He stood up and he came through for us. Really big. Big day for him today.”

On UK’s defense …

”I think we’re a good defensive team. I think we’re athletic. If we can find a way to keep you in front of us, our length comes into play. Our athleticism comes into play. But at the end of the day, guys, we had 48 rebounds, they had 28. That’s a lot. That’s a lot of rebounding.”

On the rebounding of UK’s guards …

”Immanuel Quickley had 10. Thought he did a great job. I thought he did a great job down the stretch of leading us, being a leader. Guys, at the end of the day, our veterans have to be good. You look across the country and you see all these teams, there’s not a lot of wiggle room for anybody. Nobody’s more talented than anybody else. We say this every day: We can beat anybody or we can lose to anyone. Well, if you’ve got sophomores and juniors—for us, at Kentucky, that’s veterans. So those guys have to lead us and they did a great job tonight.”

On the expectation that UK will face a lot of close games and how much solace they take from the way the team handled that …

”A lot of solace. I’m really proud of the guys. Again, we teach—the last 10 minutes of a game, the last eight minutes of a game is winning time for us. So regardless of what has happened before that, it’s going to come down to those last pivotal minutes of the game. You better embrace it. We talk about it in practice. We look at it on film. We talk about it when we watch NBA games and playoff atmospheres. It’s going to come down to critical points in games. How are you going to handle it? It’s not going to be easy. Guys are going make tough shots at critical times. You better make sure that we’re executing defensively and executing offensively.”