The outcome of this game certainly looked bleak before it even began, but that didn't deter the Cats from coming out of the gate ready to fight until the end. It was a physical back-and-forth first half as there were dunks, technicals, and elbows to the face. Kentucky clearly came in prepared and put together a great first half on their way to a 40-36 lead.
After the break, Kentucky did not back down. The second half started much as the first half went. Arkansas’ Davonte Davis was called for a double technical and was ejected after being called for a foul, yelling at the official, walking back to the bench and yelling at the official some more. Well, that sums up the first minute and 45 seconds of the second half.
Antonio Reeves knocked down all four technical free throws for the Cats as they jumped out to a 48-39 lead led by 11 straight points from Reeves. This game didn't slow down at that point, though. Both teams were playing like their seasons were on the line, and it very much felt like March had arrived.
In the end, the Cats never quit and came away with an absolutely huge win. What a game!
Next up, the postseason begins with the SEC Tournament in Nashville. With this win, Kentucky will be the No. 3 seed and get a badly-needed double-bye before playing in the late Friday game next week. It will likely be against Vanderbilt, who plays Thursday vs. the winner of Wednesday’s Georgia vs. LSU matchup.
If Kentucky wins Friday, they’ll likely face No. 2 seed Texas A&M on Saturday. The Aggies just scored a huge home win over top-seeded Alabama.
Now, here’s what you need to know from today’s massive victory.
No point guard, no problem
The Cats continue to deal with injury after injury as this time Cason Wallace missed today's game due to an ankle injury suffered in the loss to the Vanderbilt Commodores on Tuesday night.
Sahvir Wheeler was also out once again as Kentucky was without a true point guard in this one, which led to a starting five of CJ Fredrick, Antonio Reeves, Chris Livingston, Jacob Toppin, and Oscar Tshiebwe.
Antonio Reeves has point guard experience from his time at Illinois State, but he isn't the best ball handler or distributor, so he's been relegated to emergency point guard this season. However, he and Toppin initiated the offense for the vast majority of this game and did an excellent job doing so.
All things considered, Kentucky took care of the ball for the most part and Reeves and Toppin led the charge. Toppin has a surprisingly good handle for a player his size, and he took advantage by often breaking the press for the Cats. Reeves, on the other hand, didn't let point guard duties deter his scoring ability.
Those two guys were the only reason this was even a game. They left it all out on the court.
Energy and toughness
Well, that was fun! The Cats came out ready to fight to the bitter end, and it was a brawl...literally.
This game got chippy early as the Razorbacks had a clear plan of trying to out-physical Kentucky and get in their heads. And it worked, at least early on, as Tshiebwe got hit with a technical foul, as did Arkansas’ Makhel Mitchell, as a pushing and elbow match ensued. Tshiebwe later got called for a flagrant foul for an elbow and was lucky he didn't get ejected, but the point was made: you're not going to bully these Cats.
The energy provided by UK showed they weren't going to back down from the start. I mentioned Tshiebwe’s antics, but Reeves and Arkansas’ Davonte Davis got into a face-to-face shouting match early in the second half, followed by a foul on Davis and a double technical leading to his ejection.
This game was absolutely bonkers. Physical. Back and forth. Players fouling out. No backing down. It wasn't always pretty, especially when the fouls piled up, but it was fun.
Reeves lights it up and JT balls out
As discussed above, Reeves was thrown into emergency point guard duty due to Wallace and Wheeler’s absences, but he did more than initiate the offense. Reeves stepped up and knocked down bucket after bucket from all over the court.
Toppin, who also helped Kentucky initiate the offense, played an awesome game in a huge bounceback win for the Cats. He knocked down two threes, hit the midrange shot, helped control the offense, locked down on defense, and willed Kentucky to the win. He finished with 21 points and hit some big free throws late in the game.
We’re used to seeing ThReeves show up and show out from deep, but he scored in a variety of ways in this one. He attacked the basket, hit the floater, knocked down a few threes, and thrived from the stripe.
After the ugly showing on Senior Night, Reeves put that one in the rearview and really locked in for this one on his way to a career-high in scoring. It was an incredible showing from this young man when Kentucky badly needed it.
What a massive performance. Reeves finished 37 (!) points on an efficient 12-17 from the floor and 11-11 from the free throw line.
What a game and what a win! Go Cats!