BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
A Razorback basketball team that was on life support in January at 1-5 in SEC action has never looked more alive this season than it did Tuesday night in Lexington, Kentucky.
Arkansas shot 72 percent from the field in the second half (18 of 25) and raced away from Kentucky late while routing the Wildcats 88-73 at Rupp Arena.
Kentucky head coach John Calipari said it was a combination of Arkansas’ attacking offense and his team’s passive defense.
“It was both,” Calipari said. “I mean, they made shots, now. We did all the right things, and all of a sudden they make a shot at the shot clock and it goes down, or a three. They played well, and we weren’t defensively — come on, we’re a pretty good defensive team. We weren’t tonight. We just weren’t.
“…They were way better than us today.
It was the fifth straight league win for Arkansas (17-7, 6-5), it’s second straight at Kentucky and its third consecutive win over the Wildcats (16-8, 7-4).
The Razorbacks shot 62 percent from the field overall in the game while hitting 4 of 9 3-pointers and 20 of 24 free throws, including 10 of 10 on charity tosses in the first half.
Ricky Council IV had 20 points to lead Arkansas while Anthony Black had 19 points, 5 assists, 5 steals and 4 rebounds, Devo Davis 15 points and 7 assists, Jordan Walsh 13 points, Mahkel Mitchell 15 points and 5 blocks and his twin brother Makhi grabbed a team-high 9 rebounds.
“Give Arkansas credit,” Calipari said. “They were physical, they drove the ball. Our rim protection was awful. I can’t get guys to body up and do this stuff, and they did a great job of bodying up us.”
Kentucky, which had its six-game SEC winning streak end with the loss, shot 46.8 percent from the field (29 of 62) while having 7 shots blocked.
“The blocks were not like out of — they just jumped with two hands, they bodied up, and if you threw it into their arms, it was a block,” Calipari said. “We’ve just got to do it.”
Cason Wallace led Kentucky with 24 points while Chris Livingston added 13, Antonio Reeves and Jacob Toppin 11 each.
The Wildcats, playing without point guard Sahvir Wheeler, had 15 turnovers that the Razorbacks turned into 28 points.
“We had 15 turn(over)s,” Calipari said. “We’ve been averaging 10, 11 turns, but playing Cason (Wallace) as much as we did, we struggled with it.
“But they shot 72 percent in the second half. Come on. You’re not going to win a game if they’re shooting 72 percent.”
Kentucky star center Oscar Tshiebwe, who is averaging 16 points and 13.9 rebounds per game this season, had seven points, seven rebounds on just six shots on Tuesday night.
It came after Tshiebwe, last season’s College Player of the Year, had just four points and 15 rebounds on Saturday in a 72-67 home win over Florida.
“Well, there was one point I said we’re throwing it to him every time, and we were trying to get it into him,” Calipari said. “I thought he worked at times, and other times they were getting around the post. They trapped him or they just bodied him.
“I was doing some stuff to let him get some jump shots, to just get him going, and he’s got to be better for us, and he will be. He will be.”
Arkansas led just 41-40 at halftime, but roared out of the locker room with six unanswered points that forced a Calipari timeout just 81 seconds into the second half.
“I was just so disappointed,” Calipari said. “Turnover, turnover, dunk, layup. I’m looking around, I’ve got to call a timeout a minute into the half, and literally like, come on, how did you lose that, how did you not get that ball.
That lead would grow to 72-58 with 6:40 left and Arkansas cruised home from there for its second win as a visitor in four days after losing its first five true road games.
“We just started off pretty slow and had a few turnovers early,” Wallace said. “That really set the tone for the second half.”
Livingston was aware that Arkansas had won the matchup between the two last season.
The two will meet agains March 4 in Arkansas.
“Giving them run-outs, giving them turnovers — that builds the other team’s confidence,” Livingston said. “Those are easy buckets for them, especially in a war-like game that we were in. That’s a tough battle, a tough fight. Any time you get easy opportunities, the team’s going to get energy. We put our heads down after we made mistakes like that.
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“Giving them run-outs, giving them turnovers — that builds the other team’s confidence,” Livingston said. “Those are easy buckets for them, especially in a war-like game that we were in. That’s a tough battle, a tough fight. Any time you get easy opportunities, the team’s going to get energy. We put our heads down after we made mistakes like that.”