Kentucky’s Caliapri admires his team’s fight while rallying past Arkansas

By Dudley E. Dawson
on 2024-01-27 21:13 PM


It certainly didn’t start out as a thing of beauty, but Kentucky head basketball coach John Calipari was nevertheless still happy to leave Arkansas’ Bud Walton Arena on Saturday night with a win.

The No. 6 Wildcats trailed for the first 27 minutes of the contest, but slowly made up an early 10-point deficit and went on to down the Razorbacks 63-57 before an announced sellout crowd of 19,200.

“You shoot 35 precent against a big-time opponent and figure out how to win the game and run out and win because of how you finished the game – how yoiu make free throws, you have to be happy with that,” Caliapari said.

“…They (the Wildcats) were prideful. That team (Arkansas) is really talented and they were prideful guarding one on one.”

Antonio Reeves scored a team-high 24 points to lead Kentucky (15-4, 5-2), a year after having a career-high 38 in his team’s 88-79 win at Bud Walton Arena in the two program’s regular season finale.

Arkansas (10-10, 1-6), which hosted ESPN’s GameDay college basketball show for the first time ever on Saturday, has now fallen to .500 this season under fifth-year head coach Eric Musselman.

“I know everybody down here will be panicking and all that other stuff,” Caliapari said. “Last year Muss, they were 1-5 and they went to the Sweet 16. 

““If this team chooses, and they have got enough talent, if this team choose to come together, they have a coach that’s proven he has done it. They have to come together.”

Arkansas and Kentucky will play again on March 2 in Rupp Arena.

“Do we have to play them again?” Calipari asked.  “Well, let’s hope they come together after we play them. I feel for him (Muss) because I have been there.”

Tre Mitchell added a double with 10 points and 11 rebounds for Kentucky while freshman Reed Sheppard added 14 points, all coming after intermission.

“He (Sheppard) said ‘stick with me,’” Calipari said. “Here’s the deal with him. If he had said that to me at South Carolina, I probably would have played him more than I played him. But he looked like a deer in headlights. Everybody saw it and said ‘what happened to him?’

“But I came up to him and said ‘if that ever happens again, you look at me in the eye and say ‘stick with me coach, I’ll be fine.’”

Calipari was also pleased with effort of 7-foot reserve forward Ugonna Onyenso, who had 6 points, 4 rebounds and 3 blocks in 25 minutes of action.

“He was the difference in the game and everybody knows it,” Calipari said. “Everybody on our teams knows it.”

It was Kentucky’s third straight win over Arkansas its second at Bud Walton Arena in two years. 

Arkansas was playing without a pair of starters in Trevon Brazile and senior Devo Davis, who “has stepped away from the program” per a press release distributed before the game.

Kentucky, who was without ill Rob Dillingham, was coming off a 17point loss at South Carolina.

But the Razorbacks, who have lost three league games and four overall at home this season, jumped to an 18-8 lead.

It was no small factor that Kentucky connected on only 1 of its first 13 field goal attempts and 3 of its first 21.

Makhi Mitchell had 12 points and 13 rebounds and Tramon Mark and Kaliff Battle 11 points each to lead Arkansas.

The Razorbacks ended up shooting 20 of 60 from the field, 4 of 19 from 3-point range and 13 of 18 on its charity tosses.

The Wildcats were 23 of 63 (36.5 percent) shooting from the floor, 9 of 20 from 3-point range and 8 of 12 on their free throws.

Kentucky’s first lead of the came on Sheppard’s dunk that put the Wildcats up 38-37 with 12:56 left in the contest.

Arkansas’ last lead occurred on Jalen Graham’s hook shot that gave the Razorbacks a  41-40 lead with 10:37 remaining. 

“We did a couple of wrinkles and we also did some things defensively because this team is smart,” Calipari said. “I can say we are going to play it and if we don’t get something, we will finish it off even if we haven’t worked on it.

“The other thing was I wanted them to keep playing fast.” 

Arkansas won the board battle 44-39, but had 13 turnovers to Kentucky’s 9 miscues.

Arkansas, which led 26-24 at halftime, had been 78-10 when it had an advantage at intermission under Musselman. 

“I am coaching to win the game and I told them at halftime that you ought to say ‘Coach, you had great patience’ because every lay up I saw you miss, I was like grinding my teeth,” Calipari said.

Photo by John D. James

(Last updated: 2024-01-27 21:13 PM)