LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The University of Kentucky basketball team was the victim of another SportsCenter moment Tuesday night in Arkansas' Bud Walton Arena.
Seemingly headed for a second overtime as Arkansas pulled up for a last second three-pointer deep on the right wing, the Wildcats watched the ball kick high off the rim, then they watched (literally) Michael Qualls slam the rebound back through the rim with 0.2 seconds remaining to give the Razorbacks an 87-85 victory.
In keeping with our custom: Nine thoughts.
1. GROWING PAIN. Kentucky grew during this loss. Before anything else, it appeared to me that the Wildcats competed hard, executed in some pressure situations, made two big threes to tie it in regulation (Andrew Harrison) and overtime (James Young), and in general played well against an Arkansas team that had just had its 23-game home-court losing streak snapped by Florida and was fighting for its Southeastern Conference life.
"I'm proud of my team that they didn't quit, they kept playing," UK coach John Calipari said. "We executed, gave us a chance when we went down three. Stuff that we worked on, we did, and got the shot that we wanted. It's just, the last shot, the kid watched, my guy watched, and a guy ran by him and dunked it. But you know what, that's what freshmen do."
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson, when asked about the implications of the loss for UK, said: "Nothing negative. They fought. They were in position. They're young. They're learning."
2. BOXING OUT. It ended with the failure to block out, and that's pretty much where Calipari began his post-game comments. But give credit to Qualls. He recognized the opportunity of the moment, and sprinted to the rim when the shot went up.
"Crashing the boards, in that type of situation, it's the best time to crash the boards, because everybody's clinching their shirt, hoping he doesn't hit the three," Qualls said. "They forget about (blocking out), so I just seen the opportunity and I went and took it."
Young was the player along the baseline who failed to check out on Qualls, but Andrew Harrison also was in the vicinity.
Young said after the game, "It was just my fault. I stopped playing at the last second. I thought it was just going to bounce off, the time was going to run out. I just stopped playing at the last second."
Julius Randle immediately interrupted Young to say it was a team failure, not his fault.
3. KEY STATS. Arkansas outscored UK 21-7 off turnovers, though the Wildcats had only six in the second half and overtime. Free throws: UK made 26 of 40 (65 percent), Arkansas made 29 of 41 (70.7 percent). They were the first team all season to shoot more free throws than UK.
4. OFFICIATING? It was over the top. The game featured 60 fouls and 81 free throws, and there were some bizarre calls. Too many to name. One note: It may have been the first game all season in which UK was victimized by the quick whistle. Games in Rupp have been fairly kind to UK, as have neutral court games. Regardless, this one had more video review than an NFL playoff game, and at times seemed like one on the court. The fact remains, you can look at someone the wrong way on the perimeter and get whistled. You can pull out a lead pipe and beat someone senseless at the rim and play on.
5. ALEX THE GREAT. Alex Poythress had one of his best games as a Wildcat. His huge rebound and kick out to Young for the three that tied the game at the end of overtime was one of the game's most impressive plays. He made five of seven shots, had six rebounds and finished with 12 points.
"Alex Poythress was great today again," Calipari said. "Another great game. He made the effort play that saved the ball that got us the three at the end and tied up the game. That was Alex. That wasn't anybody else."
6. OVER AND BACK. The play that ticked Calipari off the most came with two minutes left in the overtime period and UK trailing 80-78. Calipari was trying to get his team to take a timeout, and the ball nearly got stolen. Instead, UK got the ball back near the half-court stripe, then committed an over-and-back violation when Aaron Harrison caught the ball, then crossed over the midcourt stripe for the turnover.
"Side out-of-bounds play out of a time out, just like against Louisville, throw it away," Calipari said. "Are you kidding me? Exact same thing."
7. JULIUS RANDLE had his standard double-double, 20 points, 14 rebounds. If there was a knock on his game, it was his five turnovers, and zero assists. UK still needs more passing from him, and when it gets it, the Wildcats will take another step offensively.
8. TOURNAMENT RESUME. All these people asking whether Kentucky should be ranked or even questioning UK's (and Louisville's, for that matter) tournament worthiness are chiming in from another planet. The Wildcats are going to keep winning, and they'll be one of the teams everybody is worried most about come the postseason. Now, are they as good as everyone, myself included, thought they would be? No they are not. But they may yet be one of the better teams in the nation come March.
9. A QUICK RETORT. For UK fans getting a hard time from their rival U of L fans today, the best answer probably is a short one: "U.S. Reed." Probably fair to say, there's not much love lost for Arkansas in these parts.
Postscript: I only mention it because there's a Lexington Herald-Leader picture of Aaron Harrison exchanging words with an Arkansas fan in the arena after last night's game, but such fan behavior really doesn't deserve to be publicized. Yes, Harrison has to learn to bypass all that garbage. But I've seen enough fans behaving badly to know that more often than not, they do plenty to ask for it.