BOZICH | Gap between Kentucky and SEC sits at 30 points per game - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Gap between Kentucky and SEC sits at 30 points per game

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Kentucky moved to 3-0 in the SEC by defeating Arkansas Saturday night. Kentucky moved to 3-0 in the SEC by defeating Arkansas Saturday night.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) — At Kentucky, the opponent isn’t Arkansas, Texas A&M, Ole Miss or the other guys that John Calipari’s team has stiff-armed this season.

At Kentucky, the opponent is Kentucky.

You watch the Wildcats beat Arkansas, 97-71, Saturday night in Rupp Arena and you have little doubt they’re good enough to win the Southeastern Conference with the greatest of ease. There appears to be an XXXXL-gap between UK and the rest of the league.

"I don't think that's true," Calipari said.

The results suggest otherwise. In three SEC games, the Wildcats have given Ole Miss (23 points), A&M (42) and Arkansas (26) their worst losses this season. At 3-0 (and 13-2 overall), they sit at the top of the SEC with Florida.

The Gators have won their three by an average of less than 10 points per game. UK has won its three by average of more than 30.

"It's probably one of his more talented teams here," Arkansas coach Mike Richardson said of Calipari's squad.

You wonder how this team compares to the seven Calipari-coached Kentucky teams that have come preceded them, starting with the John Wall/DeMarcus Cousins squad from seven seasons ago through the Tyler Ulis/Jamal Murray team from last March.

Sure, this one was more of a grind than the way UK thumped Ole Miss and Texas A&M to start conference play. The Wildcats led by three at halftime and only seven nearly five minutes into the second half.

Malik Monk scored two points in the first half. The Wildcats missed too many free throws (four of 12) and three-pointers (7 of 10) in the first 20 minutes. Bam Adebayo didn’t get enough shots — three in the first 17 minutes. 

The Razorbacks hung around in the second half. Then they made a mistake. Or two. Or three.

Coach Mike Anderson decided to shock the Wildcats with a full-court press. They were not shocked. 

Point guard De’Aaron Fox blitzed through a double-team, crackled into the open court and found Isaiah Briscoe for a layup. MEMO: Do not press Fox.

That didn't do as much to energize the Rupp Arena crowd as the stunt that Arkansas guard Jaylen Barford tried. Barreling through the heart of the Kentucky defense for a layup, Barford was intercepted by several UK defenders.

He missed the shot. He lost the points — and his poise. Standing over Briscoe, Barford stepped on the upper thigh of the Kentucky sophomore.

Intentional? Sure seemed that way.

The kind of move you’d expect from Christian Laettner or Grayson Allen? Well, now that you mentioned it.

That’s not how the officials saw it — assessing technical fouls (but not a flagrant) to Barford and Fox, who rushed into the scrum to defend his teammate. Barford was also assessed a personal foul, giving him four.

"I haven't seen it," Anderson said. "Obviously, I'm biased. I didn't agree with it."

Intentional? Barford insisted that it was not.

"It was just a play in the game that just happened," Barford said. "I didn't mean to step on him."

Did Briscoe agree?

"I don't know what he thought," Barford said. "But I didn't do it on purpose."

The Wildcats didn’t get the call but they got several things more essential — an emotional lift and the backing of a suddenly raucous crowd. They outscored Arkansas, 40-23, from that point.

There was nearly one more dust-up after Arkansas center Moses Kingsley popped Adebayo on the head and bicep in the low post. For a second Adebayo seemed motivated to retaliate. Didn't happen.

What happened is that the Wildcats showed there is a considerable gap between Kentucky and the pretenders in the SEC.

Credit Fox with 27 points, a career high. He also had three times as many assists (6) as turnovers (2) in 37 flawless minutes.

Briscoe and Derek Willis (three for five from distance) each contributed 15. The Wildcats cruised while only getting a dozen from Monk, the fewest points Monk has scored since the season opener.

Arkansas (12-3) looks like the fourth best team in the league, behind only UK, Florida and South Carolina. They can score with nearly anybody

How does this compare with the first seven Calipari squads?

"I'm just worried about saying how good can we get and how good we can become," Calipari said. "We're still not there yet, I can tell you."

Hold all tickets until the NCAA Tournament is played, but there are vital signs that suggest this team will be in the discussion with the 2012 NCAA champs, the 2015 nearly unbeatens and the 2010 Wall/Cousins/Eric Bledsoe squad.

I’ll start with this nugget: This Kentucky team has won 12 of its first 15 games by 20 points or more.

None of Calipari’s first seven UK teams did that. 

Not the Anthony Davis team. That group won 10 of its first 15 by at least 20.

Not the Karl Anthony-Towns/Devin Booker group that won its first 38. UK started 15-0 two years ago, but only eight wins were by 20 or more. 

Don’t forget that the team that won its first 38 needed one overtime to win its SEC opener over Ole Miss and two overtimes to dispatch Texas A&M.

Strange thing: Kentucky opened SEC play against the Rebels and Aggies again this season — and won by a combined 65 points.

Two other things I like about this team: It ranks first in the SEC in turnover margin (plus-6.6) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.7).

Against Arkansas, Kentucky won easily, without getting a signature performance from Monk, who missed all five of his attempts from distance.

Next? A Tuesday night trip to Vanderbilt, which lost for the first time in three SEC games at Alabama Saturday.

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