By Ricky Blair – The Kentucky-Arkansas rivalry does not have the excitement that it did in the 1990’s when both teams were consistently ranked in the top 10 nationally. Most people would even be surprised to know that Arkansas came into Rupp Arena on Saturday riding a three-game winning streak against the Wildcats.
But the number one ranked and undefeated Wildcats put an emphatic stop to Arkansas’ mini winning streak. This was not the dysfunctional 2013 team that the Razorbacks beat two years ago, nor was this the all-freshman team from a year ago that Arkansas went on to win against the Cats in two overtime upsets. However, this is a team on a historical undefeated 29 game winning streak. This Kentucky team seems to play at their best when challenged by another highly ranked opponent, such as they did earlier in the season with wins over Kansas, North Carolina and Louisville. Arkansas came into this game in second place in the SEC race, ranked #16 in the National Coaches poll. On this particular day, these teams were light years away from each other. The Wildcats completely dominated.
From the opening tip, the Wildcats left no doubt that they were the better team. A pass from Karl-Anthony Towns to fellow freshman forward Trey Lyles for a lob dunk started the scoring for Kentucky and they never looked back. With Lyles scoring 12 of his team leading 18 points in the first half, the Wildcats built a 16 point first half lead at 42-26. Then, in the second half, the lead grew to as many as 31 points before Kentucky let off the gas in the last seven minutes and coasted to a 84-67 win.
Sophomore point guard Andrew Harrison contributed 18 points and dished out three assists in the total demolition. Fellow point guard Freshman Tyler Ulis also had a big day with 14 points and 3 assists. This was a total team effort with the Wildcats getting contributions from most everyone who played. Junior Forward Willie Cauley-Stein had an incredible game. Although he only had 7 points, Cauley-Stein had a team high 9 rebounds, 4 blocks and 2 steals. His defensive skills make him almost a sure lock for the NBA lottery.
The Wildcats clinched their 46th Southeastern Conference regular-season championship with the win over the Razorbacks. Now, Kentucky will go to Georgia on Tuesday night before returning home next Saturday for a home game with Florida. The Cats will see if they can seal an undefeated regular season and mark their place in history.
(UK Game Notes and Calipari Interview provided by UK Athletics)
An interview with: COACH JOHN CALIPARI
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
- What does it say about your team it seems to play its best in these big games against top‑ranked opponents?
COACH CALIPARI: I think they were looking forward to this game.
The thing for these kids, they’re preparing to play well, but know if I’m not at my very best, I’m good, I’ll play other people, but I’m not going to hurt myself. That’s what is good about this.
Dakari (Johnson) wasn’t at his best. We could play different lineups. You can play Trey at a four. You can do all different things.
I thought we missed some shots we normally make. We withstood any kind of run. Offensively, nine turnovers, 13 assists. All you Basketball Bennys, you know why you don’t get as many assists in this game, ’cause they’re trying to steal so many passes, you have to throw one or two passes and drive the ball. So you’re not going to have like 19, 20 assists. You’re going to go to the rim.
You saw Andrew Harrison attack. Only one time did he try to draw a foul. The rest of them he shot layups, made plays, did a great job. So did Tyler. They all did.
- Last post‑season you would say a guy was going to be your guy that game, and it seemed to play out that way. You said the other night Trey (Lyles) is the X-Factor.
COACH CALIPARI: He is.
- Have you played that sort of card with him lately?
COACH CALIPARI: Well, he’s healthy. I’ll tell you, honestly, he’s terrific. He’s been trained as a three, but you see when he’s at four, you see him around the basket, but he can make 15‑footers. He’s 6’10”. He’s big. When he was out, we didn’t have that one more rebounder that we needed.
- Cal, the game starts off with the lob to Trey, then Willie (Cauley-Stein) on the other end a couple sequences later has a big block. Are those the kind of plays you want from these guys to set the tone for the game right out of the gate?
COACH CALIPARI: Yeah. But either way, look, you want the games to unfold in all kind of different ways. This was a different game for us. We wanted to score 100 points because of how we knew they could play. There are other games where you have to hold it a little bit, grind it out. But not this game.
The other thing I wanted, I keep telling them, You got to be willing to risk, go make plays. So you’re going to turn it over some, but go do the things you’re working on every day in practice. That includes Willie, Trey, Dakari, Karl (-Anthony Towns), all those guys.
- When you look at the way Aaron (Harrison) shot the ball, but then you look at the other stats on the sheet, is that a major step for him?
COACH CALIPARI: I still want him to get to the rim more. I thought he had two or three or four other opportunities to drive the ball, which I’m telling his brother the same thing. Don’t settle, man.
We threw it to him on the wing. It was him and no other defenders except the guy on him. Don’t pass it to anybody. Drive the ball. You’re 6’6″, you’re a moose. Get the ball by the guy, get in the lane, shoot the layup.
He’s a great passer. You can’t do that just standing on the perimeter looking for jump shots. We’re forcing he and his brother just drive it.
I don’t care, you’re going to turn it over some. I’m okay with that. Just attack, just go. If you don’t, you pull it out, I’m taking you out.
- On Aaron Harrison playing well today.
COACH CALIPARI: He was great. We talked about run‑throughs. I wanted Andrew to get a couple more, but I thought Aaron was terrific.
- Why were you able to kind of beat Arkansas at their own game with the points off turnovers? They had four points off turnovers, you had 16. You took it to them and beat them at their own game.
COACH CALIPARI: One, we’re a pretty good defensive team. It’s hard to beat us on the dribble. If you do, you’re running into 7‑footers. We worked really hard on taking their three away. But we gave up some threes to start the half. Devin didn’t get to the guy. We had another three on a screw‑up where we didn’t talk.
But we did not want them to beat us shooting threes. We wanted them to drive the ball. Which, again, because of how they play ‑ pass, pass, pass ‑ we were trying to steal like the third pass, just run through when they’re moving the ball.
Look, they’re a terrific team. Somebody just told me we won our league. That’s an accomplishment for this team, being they’re the fifth youngest team in the country. They win this league, and this league has six tournament teams in it.
We’ve gone through the gauntlet. Now we have two more ridiculously tough games at Georgia who is playing great right now, they won at Mississippi, they won at home, they smashed Missouri today. They’re playing as well as they played all year right now. Great time. Foxy has them going.
You have Florida. It’s still Florida. It’s like them playing us a couple years ago when we weren’t very good. They’re playing us. It’s still Kentucky, it’s still Florida. Those are both going to be hard games.
- Cal, is it safe to say that Trey may be one of the most fundamentally sound freshmen you’ve ever coached?
COACH CALIPARI: I’m not going to say that because I’ve had a lot of really, really good freshmen. But for his size, the things that he does, I’m saying it again, he’s the X-Factor for us. He’s the one that makes us go from pretty good, really good, to uh‑oh, what is this I’m watching.
- Way back in August you said The Bahamas trip is going to be good, but it will make for a long season. Does it feel longer than normal?
COACH CALIPARI: I’m saying I wish the regular season was over with. I told them that. I told them that about 10 days ago. We got to play these games. Let’s just try to play them, try to get better.
I told them this. If we get dinged, I’m good. This isn’t March. If we get dinged, let’s go try to be our best. But you never know what’s going to happen. I’m not worried about that. I told them. I’m not sure they feel the same way I do. They’re feeling a little bit different.
But what they’ve been able to do, again, we can all talk about what we want. It is that all these kids have sacrificed for each other. All of them have given up something for each other. They’ve all been selfless. They all play. They want to be coached. Even when I’m on them, they’re accepting coaching. They’re allowing this to happen.
Again, you know, like I’m not afraid to tell you, a bunch of these kids are going to be in the NBA next year. Not just one or two. Two guys shoot, the rest of you defend, rebound, dive on the floor. That’s not what this is. You got a bunch of guys playing basketball, scoring, they’re sharing. It’s fun to watch.
- Could you see something in practice the last couple days?
COACH CALIPARI: They were really good. Mississippi State, ice storm, snowstorm, stuck in Starkville, get up for breakfast, go to a 1:00 practice. The basket on the gym is nine feet. We go down to the court. There’s a guy with a camera on the court, a chair, says, You can’t go here. We had to walk up to the another arena, wait.
We had one of the best practices of the year. The spirit in the gym was unbelievable. We got back on the plane, came back, had dinner. Yesterday’s practice was really good. Really good. Today’s shoot‑around was really good.
I may be tired because of all this, but they’re playing 22, 23 minutes a game. You don’t have guys playing 38 minutes a game. They’re exhausted right now. That’s not what this is.
- On this possibly being the two best SEC teams in the league and it showing the gap.
COACH CALIPARI: What’s the gap between us and Kansas? What’s the gap between us and Louisville? What’s the gap between us and UCLA, Providence?
We’ve got a good team, and we’ve got six tournament teams in this league that are going to be in. Just win the games you’re supposed to win, we got six in.
Last year we had three in the Sweet 16, two in the Final Four. Should have had two in the final game. Oh, the league. What are you talking about? You can say it over and over and over, say, I’m going to make this true.
That’s why I say, the coaches shouldn’t stand for it and the media that cover this league shouldn’t stand for it. Stop saying it.
Iowa State was beat by South Carolina. LSU went to West Virginia and won. I mean, this league is not what they want to paint it to be. Every game we play is an event, unless it snows (smiling).
- Coach, the twins have played against Arkansas before. Talk about Tyler’s (Ulis) performance as a freshman.
COACH CALIPARI: He was good. He was good. I told him, hey, go score some points today. I thought he played good.
- On today’s guard play
COACH CALIPARI: Well, I thought Andrew was like ridiculous. Andrew just dominated the game. In my mind, he was the best guard on the floor.
But, you know, again, he has 18 and 3. Gets to the foul line, three assists. Low turns, in this kind of game, that’s a big deal. For us to play this many people, have the low turns that we do, it’s pretty neat.
- Andrew, is he close to playing the way you want him to play?
COACH CALIPARI: Yes, he’s getting better.
I’m telling you what it is. It’s a spirit. It’s a spirit that we all feel when you watch him play. He doesn’t stop on the court. There’s nothing. I’m in attack mode, I’m aggressive. I’m talking to my teammates. I’m running this. You know I’m controlling this. I’ll score when I have to. I’m not trying to get fouled. I’m driving to score, not get fouled.
And defensively I need him to have a little more play making on the weak side. In other words, a couple run‑throughs, a couple rebounds on the weak side, then all of a sudden you’re seeing this guy, this guy is as good as any of them, and he is.
But it’s hard to play that way. He got exhausted today. He came over to the side. I looked at him, said, Last year you tried to do this playing 35 minutes. That’s why you couldn’t finish the game last year. We were up 5 with a minute and a half to go. I didn’t realize it till I watched the tape. Turnover, turnover, missed basket, all of a sudden we lose.
But he was good today.
Arkansas at Kentucky, Men’s Basketball – Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky., Feb. 28, 2015
FINAL SCORE: Kentucky 84, Arkansas 67
- Kentucky is 29-0, 16-0 in the Southeastern Conference. Arkansas is 23-6 overall, 12-4 in league play.
- Kentucky leads the series 26-11.
- Kentucky clinched the SEC championship outright today.
- It is Kentucky’s 46th regular-season SEC championship.
- It is Coach John Calipari’s 13th regular-season conference title, including his third at UK.
- With 29 consecutive victories …
- It extended the longest season-opening win streak for any team in SEC history.
- It is the second-longest overall win streak in Kentucky history.
- It extended the longest win streak for a John Calipari-coached team.
- Kentucky is 206-27 all-time when ranked No. 1 and has won 51 of the last 53 games as The Associated Press top-ranked team.
- UK is 49-1 all-time as the No. 1-ranked team in Rupp Arena.
- Calipari has led three schools to a No. 1 ranking (Massachusetts, Memphis, Kentucky) and has a 95-9 record as the top-ranked coach, including 54-4 at UK.
- Calipari is now 181-37 (.830) as head coach at Kentucky, the best winning percentage of any coach in UK history.
- UK led the entire game and has trailed for only 149:01 of a possible 1,175 minutes this season.
- This was the third consecutive game that the Wildcats did not trail.
- UK has trailed for only 22:11 of the possible 240 minutes this season vs. ranked foes.
- Kentucky has defeated its six ranked opponents this season by an average of 17.2 points per game.
- Kentucky returns to action Tuesday at Georgia. Game time is 9 p.m. and it will be televised on ESPN.
- Kentucky scored 84 points today and has averaged 89.3 over the last three games.
- UK shot 75 percent from the line, 21 of 28. UK has made at least 70 percent of its foul shots in 13 of the last 17 games.
- Key stats for the Cats:
- UK won rebounding 38-32, leading to a 40-24 advantage in points in the paint.
- UK won points off turnovers, 16-9. UK has won or tied points off turnovers in every game this season.
- UK won bench points 24-7. UK has won bench points in every game this season.
- Kentucky’s streak of 927 consecutive games with a 3-pointer was extended when Aaron Harrison tripled at the 18:02 mark of the first half.
- Kentucky’s opening lineup featured Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, Trey Lyles, Karl-Anthony Towns and Willie Cauley-Stein for the 10th time this season.
- Kentucky scored on five of the first six possessions in jumping out to an 11-2 lead.
- UK steadily built the advantage, leading by as many as 16 points at 32-16 with 5:33 remaining.
- At that point, Arkansas called timeout and responded with a 7-0 run to cut it to 32-23.
- The Wildcats closed the period with a 10-3 spurt and went to intermission ahead 42-26.
- Kentucky started the second half with Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, Trey Lyles, Karl-Anthony Towns and Dakari Johnson.
- Arkansas got within 13 points on two occasions early in the half but got no closer.
- UK led by as many as 31 points at 78-47.
- In back-to-back games, Trey Lyles has his two highest-scoring games of the season. He had 18 points Wednesday at Mississippi State and 18 today.
- Karl-Anthony Towns had eight points, making 4-of-5. Over the last five games he has made 87 percent of his shots, 20-of-23.
- Aaron Harrison had nine points and a career-high five steals.
- Andrew Harrison tied Lyles for game-high honors with 18 points. It is his second-highest game of the season.
- Devin Booker scored 10 points, his fourth double-figure game in a row and 17th double-figure game of the season.
- Tyler Ulis notched 14 points, tying his season high set in December at Louisville.
Willie Cauley-Stein had seven points and a solid floor game with nine rebounds, two assists, two steals and four blocked shots.