CRAWFORD | Kentucky 80, Arkansas 66: Five takeaways from a solid - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Kentucky 80, Arkansas 66: Five takeaways from a solid step forward

Posted: Updated:
Kentucky's Derrick Willis guards Arkansas Dusty Hannahs in Thursday night's victory. (AP photo) Kentucky's Derrick Willis guards Arkansas Dusty Hannahs in Thursday night's victory. (AP photo)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Arkansas wanted no part of Kentucky Thursday night. The Wildcats were quicker, more active, tougher and more determined, and left with a rare victory in Bud Walton Arena, 80-66.

Arkansas bills itself as “The Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball." Kentucky slowed the Razorbacks to a season-low in points. Arkansas was the nation’s No. 3 three-point percentage team coming in. Kentucky allowed just two Razorback threes in only 12 attempts.

This was a complete beat down. Kentucky used superior quickness on the perimeter to shut down Arkansas’ sharp-shooting guard tandem of Anthlon Bell and Dusty Hannahs.

And perhaps biggest of all for the Wildcats was their frontcourt production, including 12 points from Derek Willis, which is no surprise, and 11 from Skal Labissiere, which was a big surprise.

Arkansas was able to do nothing it wanted to do, despite playing on its home court in front of a white-out crowd where the Razorbacks have lost only once this season and where they had beaten Calipari and the Wildcats on their past three visits. Arkansas lives on points off turnovers. In this game, it had only six.

 "We just reached back into the 1990s playbook and I wrote on the board, 'Refuse to lose,'" Calipari said on his IMG Sports postgame radio show with Tom Leach on the UK Network. "That's it. I don't know what else to tell you. Just don't lose. We may run out of time, but fight to the horn and refuse to go away and lose. . . They're hard to beat in this building, and we played good."

And the Wildcats maintained their advantage down the stretch, after failing to hold a lead at Auburn. Repeatedly in the final minutes, even on TV, you could hear Calipari screaming, “Go hard.”

After the disquieting loss at Auburn on Saturday, the Wildcats made progress. Some takeaways:

1. BETTER CALL SKAL. I know. “Call” and “Skal” don’t rhyme. But the big freshman had a good week of practice, and as coaches like to say, it translated. With Alex Poythress and Marcus Lee again in foul trouble, Labissiere entered the game, hit a jump shot, and his confidence rose, it seemed, with every minute he stayed on the court.

His numbers won’t knock anybody out. He had 11 points on 4 of 10 shooting, three blocked shots and three rebounds. But compared to what he’s been doing, that’s a big night. And the main thing was that he didn’t hurt the Wildcats when he was on the court. He played tough defense, and didn’t back down.

"Let's put this on me now. He's probably a jump-shooting big man, let him shoot jump shots," Calipari told Leach. "Let him be who he is. You other dudes do something. . . . I'm being honest with everybody and saying, I'm still trying to figure out this team. Now you have to watch that game and say, they haven't played that way all year. That's a different way of playing. I know. . . . I've probably been playing Skal wrong. Now you watch him and say, if that's how he is, we're not going to be bad. How about if Alex and Marcus Lee played? How about if they gave us something? Now we're that team that everybody was talking about."

2. WILLIS STARTS, KEEPS ROLLING. Derrick Willis drew the start over Marcus Lee at the power forward spot, and delivered. His defensive emergence continued with a steal and four blocked shots. He grabbed seven rebounds. And for a second straight game, he scored 12 points.

"Skal played and Derrick played, so maybe that's what we do," Calipari told Leach.

3. ULIS SET THE TONE. Tyler Ulis has been a prominent voice in practice this week for the Wildcats, and the team seemed to display some of his aggressiveness from the opening tip in this one. Kentucky was sharp on defense early, grabbed a quick 11-point lead and neither Arkansas, nor its fans, could get into the game the rest of the way.

Ulis was 0-4 in the first half and 4-10 for the game — but he finished with 24 points by going 14-15 from the free-throw line.

And against one of the best pressure defenses — and the leading steals team — in the SEC, Ulis turned it over only once.

4. DOMINANT ON THE BOARDS. Perhaps in no area do focus and intensity show up better than in rebounding. Find a team that is winning big on the boards, and it’s usually a team putting forth significant effort.

Kentucky outrebounded Arkansas 43-34. It outscored the Razorbacks 19-8 in second-chance points. It blocked nine shots against one of the better shot-blocking teams in the country.

5. MURRAY CASHES IN QUIETLY. Jamal Murray had a poor shooting first half, but did not try to dominate the offense to shoot stop a string of misses. Instead, he was a bit more patient in this game, and despite some defensive mistakes, waited for his spots, and wound up finding them. He scored seven straight points to help Kentucky maintain its lead midway through the second half, and wound up with a “quiet” 19 points, if that’s possible.

Charles Matthews also deserves some attention, logging some valuable defensive minutes. While Willis and Labissiere will obviously draw a lot of post-game attention -- and it was their play that boosted Kentucky to a 12-point halftime lead -- but in the end, this game was won, and the lead preserved, by its guards, even on a night when the shooting numbers weren't great, which is an important step forward for Kentucky.

NEXT UP: The Wildcats have a quick turnaround, returning home to prepare for a Saturday 4 p.m. meeting against Vanderbilt.

Copyright 2016 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved.

  • Sign Up for the WDRB Sports Newsletter

    * denotes required fields

    Thank you for signing up! You will receive a confirmation email shortly.
  • Sign Up for WDRB's Sports Newsletter

    * denotes required fields

    Thank you for signing up! You will receive a confirmation email shortly.
Powered by Frankly
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2017 WDRB. All Rights Reserved. For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy, and Terms of Service, and Ad Choices.