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Risers and fallers from Kentucky’s narrow win over Arkansas

After an ugly start, the Cats earned a hard-fought victory in Fayetteville.

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

The Kentucky Wildcats got off to a painful start at Arkansas last Saturday, shooting just 3/21 from the field to begin in Fayetteville. Thankfully, they did just enough to pull out the 63-57 victory.

Here are some players who willed the Cats to victory and what parts of Kentucky’s game needs to improve.

Risers

Ugonna Onyenso

If there was an unsung hero of the game award, it would go to Onyenso after his performance in Fayetteville. He might not be the star of the team, but he was a huge part of Kentucky’s win as he had six points on 3/4 shooting, grabbed four rebounds, and blocked three shots in 25 minutes. When Onyenso was on the court, Kentucky was a plus-14 in points, which was the highest total of any UK player Saturday night.

With a performance like that, Kentucky fans and even John Calipari himself are starting to think that maybe the Nigerian should start ahead of Aaron Bradshaw, who had zero points against the Razorbacks.

Reed Sheppard

After South Carolina decimated Kentucky last week, Sheppard was a part of this list but on the fallers side, and it looked like he might again be featured on this list for all the wrong reasons. However, the North Laurel product put the game in his own half in the second half.

Sheppard would go on to score 14 points in the second half, including a steal-and-slam to give Kentucky its first lead in the visit to Bud Walton Arena. He went on to hit both of his 3-point attempts, along with a couple of layups and two late free throws in the second half while running the point.

Sheppard and Antonio Reeves combined for 28 of Kentucky’s 39 points after halftime, as well as shooting a combined 5-for-7 from beyond the arc. Reeves would go on to lead all scorers in the game with 24.

Defense

While Arkansas isn’t necessarily an offensive juggernaut, Kentucky looked solid against the Razorbacks on the defensive end of the floor. A lot of that comes from Adou Thiero’s return to action but what Kentucky fans saw in Fayetteville can only be described as encouraging.

In a game that didn’t see the best offensive output from the Cats and that could have easily been a recipe for a repeat of the South Carolina game turned into a solid win on the road due to Kentucky playing decent defense. Even though it is nowhere near where it should be, the defense looks to be trending the right way.

Fallers

Offense

One part of Kentucky’s game that is trending the wrong way is the team’s greatest strength: Scoring. The Cats are ranked fourth in the country at 88.5 points per game, but after just scoring 62 points in Columbia and then being held to just 24 first-half points in Arkansas, the concern is starting to creep into the minds of Kentucky fans everywhere.

However, Kentucky was without one of the best offensive players in the country with Rob Dillingham being out with illness. That goes to show just how important Dillingham is to this team, so hopefully, he’s back Wednesday vs. Florida.

Who was your biggest riser/faller from this game? Let us know in the comments section!