LEXINGTON, Ky. — Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said his team hasn’t been perfect this season, and it wasn’t perfect Thursday night. However, the Razorbacks knew what they needed to play do to well at Rupp Arena against No. 17 Kentucky: play defense and hit free throws.
Arkansas went 16-for-16 from the foul line, making six in overtime, and the Razorbacks swept the season series with a 71-67 overtime win over Wildcats.
It was the first time in John Calipari’s five years as Wildcats coach that he lost both regular-season matchups to a Southeastern Conference team.
“I knew it was going to take an outstanding performance, especially defense,” Anderson said. “That is all we talked about. We talk about not getting annihilated on the glass, and we did that for a period. Fatigue was not a factor, and we were ready to get on the loose ball.”
The Wildcats went on a 14-2 run to take a 57-52 lead with less than five minutes to play in regulation, but their physical style did not wear down a stout Arkansas frontcourt. The Wildcats were unable to get to the foul line with their usual frequency, and poor shooting once they got there aided the Razorbacks’ ability to recover.
Kentucky only made one of its four free throws in the final three minutes of regulation, and the Wildcats finished 12-for-22 from the line.
“They beat us to loose balls, we missed 10 one-foot shots. We missed all the free throws that mattered,” Calipari said. “We had a lead late, we’re leaving timeouts and not executing. We took two steps back today.”
Arkansas guard Rashad Madden made two free throws with 29.6 seconds left in regulation to tie the score at 60.
Kentucky point guard Andrew Harrison held for the final shot and drove to the basket, but he was blocked. Arkansas got a shot at the other end, but forward Alandise Harris’ 30-foot heave as time expired hit the front of the rim, sending the game to overtime.
“There’s not much you can do about it,” Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein said. “There’s no reason to sulk in it, just remember the feeling. It’s getting too close to crunch time. You can’t dwell on it and then do the same thing the next game because you’re thinking about the last one. Next thing you know, you’re way too far behind, and there’s no return from that.”
Arkansas’ first basket of the game was a bit of deja vu. After forward Bobby Portis stole the ball from Kentucky forward James Young 10 seconds in, Razorbacks guard Fred Gulley missed a jumper. Arkansas power forward Michael Qualls followed the shot with a tip-in.
Arkansas topped Kentucky 87-85 in their first meeting on Jan. 14 when Qualls’ put-back dunk in the final second won the game in overtime.
The Wildcats got into an offensive rhythm early in the second meeting, scoring seven straight points and taking their largest lead of the first half at 11-7 with 15:16 to play.
Kentucky’s offense then went cold, and Arkansas became energized. The Razorbacks, known for their fast-paced offense, scored nine straight points in a span of two minutes and led by as many as 12 points as the first half progressed.
Kentucky struggled with physical play in the paint and had trouble finishing around the basket despite grabbing 13 offensive rebounds before intermission.
With one second left in the half, forward Julius Randle completed a three-point play to bring the Wildcats’ deficit to 37-30 at the break.
Anderson was a longtime assistant at Arkansas under legendary coach Nolan Richardson, and he was on Richardson’s bench the only other two times the Razorbacks have won at Rupp Arena: in 1992 and in 1994.
His win as the head coach Thursday is a big one for a team still fighting for a chance to get in the NCAA Tournament.
“It was a big game. Every game is a big game,” Anderson said. “I have had the opportunity to be in this building quite a few times. Many times, we went away and really got smoked. We were pretty good tonight, and time ran out on Kentucky. It has been 20 years since Arkansas won a game here. I guess you can look at other teams, and
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