Out of blue, UA submits peak effort
Thinking about the Arkansas-Kentucky game Tuesday night, the numbers 35 and 20 came to mind.
Translation: If Kentucky center Oscar Tschiebwe had scoring and rebounding totals matching a certain Texas interstate exchange, Arkansas might be run off the road inside Rupp Arena.
Outcome: Seven and Seven is a whiskey highball, not what the home team wanted or needed from the reigning Wooden Award winner.
Upshot: Arkansas laid it on Kentucky like seldom happens in Lexington but is happening too often lately for Big Blue fans. The 88-73 final was enough to send most of the announced crowd of 19,855 home early.
Let us say this conclusively: A Razorback basketball team has seldom played better under Eric Musselman, Nolan Richardson, Eddie Sutton or anyone.
Musselman improved to 3-0 against the SEC’s diamond stickpin of basketball. And, while reviewing candidates who might replace a retiring (or otherwise departing) John Calipari on the Kentucky bench, Big Blue Nation should consider a man from Arkansas — unless the school’s experience with Sutton turned UK off exploring in that direction.
Arkansas entered as a 5.5-point underdog; it left after leaving proof that 16-7 teams aren’t created equal. Five straight league wins make Arkansas 6-5 in the Southeastern Conference, a noteworthy feat for a team whose star recruit, Nick Smith Jr., has been idled most of the year.
Kentucky remains ahead of Arkansas with a 7-4 conference record, but with Tennessee among future opponents along with a March 4 rematch at Bud Walton Arena against Musselman’s squad.
Just when Kentucky thought it had turned the corner after a shocking home defeat to South Carolina, the Wildcats met an oncoming train whose players dressed in red. Kansas didn’t win this decisively at Rupp last month.
Without Smith, considered a one-and-done prospect when lured from North Little Rock, it’s a game-by-game quest to find someone with a hot shooting hand. On this night, almost everyone Arkansas sent out looked like he had come off a target range, fully holstered.
Makhel Mitchell, a 6-6, 240-pound senior from Washington, D.C., came down on the Wildcats like the Capitol dome. On any list of player-of-thegame candidates, Mitchell rated a mention after 15 points, four rebounds and five of the team’s seven steals; twin brother Makhi chipped in a game-high nine rebounds.
Ricky Council IV got it started with the first of four made 3-pointers as Arkansas shot 62.7% overall. Davonte Davis, a whipping boy for UA fans at times, made 6-of-11 shots for 15 points, leading with seven of the team’s 19 assists. Anthony Black, one player on whom Musselman can trust, totaled 19 points and five steals; Jordan Walsh, some nights on the all-AWOL team, had 13 points off the bench with perfect shooting.
When Team B shoots like Arkansas, Team A better have LeBron James, and Kentucky, through making 46.8% from the field and matching UA’s four threes, did not.
In what one feared would be Oscar Night in Lexington, Tschiebwe went 3-for-6 from the field and made the only free throw he attempted in a generally quiet performance. That won’t get it done for this Wildcat team.
Kentucky seems unable to equal, much less nullify, another team’s superb shooting. These Wildcats could use Malik Monk, whom Calipari recruited out of Arkansas what seems so long ago.
Don’t blow out the candles yet, Razorback fans. Not with Tennessee, Alabama, Texas A&M — and, yes, Kentucky — remaining on the schedule. As we know by watching, things seldom come quite so easy for these Hogs.
But on a February night in Fayette County, Kentucky, the home team got thumped with a performance that, if the school’s first legendary coach had not been preoccupied with the skin color of opposing players, Adolph Rupp might have appreciated.
Some Kentucky-based trainers on the Oaklawn backstretch are sure to be reminded of the result, perhaps paying off bets in the process. No truth that Sarah Huckabee Sanders gave running scores during her primetime speech on, as they say, other networks.