OPINION — Like It Is

Until late, it was classic Hogs vs. Wildcats

If before the game someone had said Arkansas would make 27 of 28 free throws and score 102 points at Rupp Arena on Saturday, it would have been easy to assume the Razorbacks had become the first team in history to beat Kentucky on its home court three consecutive games.

There were just a few problems that kept the Razorbacks from getting a Quad 1 win.

The Wildcats made 34 of 42 free throws as Arkansas had two players foul out and three more finish with four fouls, and Kentucky won 111-102.

Free throws hurt, but the biggest problem was Kentucky made 9 of 20 three pointers and Arkansas 7 of 17. Both had 34 field goals.

The final problem was Kentucky's defense was flaming during the last eight minutes and held the Razorbacks to three field goals on their final 12 attempts, allowing the Wildcats to go on a 32-16 run to finish the game.

Until those final eight minutes, it was a classic Arkansas-Kentucky game.

It was like the Nolan Richardson days when he and Rick Pitino were slugging it out to see which team was getting the championship rings.

In the first half there were 10 ties and 11 lead changes until Kentucky buried five consecutive shots, including 3 threes on a 13-3 run, for a 51-45 lead.

The Wildcats got two free throws to finish the first half ahead 53-48, thanks to hitting 14 of 16 free throws while the Razorbacks made 6 of 7.

Arkansas was only called for eight fouls and Kentucky five, but the Wildcats fouled on the floor and the Razorbacks apparently fouled while UK was shooting.

One of the reasons Kentucky was able to go on a run was Arkansas stopped pounding the paint and started shooting jumpers. Of the Hogs' first 31 points, 20 came in the paint. They went back to driving to open the second half, but started settling for jumpers.

The Wildcats are a three-point shooting team and the most impressive thing about them was the unselfish play.

On 34 made shots, they had 19 assist. John Calipari played 10 guys and every one scored. Every Razorback who played scored too, but more than half their shots were taken by two Hogs, Khalif Battle and Tramon Mark. They did finish with 13 assists, nine in the second half.

Arkansas fired out of the blocks to open the second half and bolted to an 88-81 lead, and even the sometimes obnoxious Wildcat fans were concerned.

Of course, despite 408 wins in his 15 seasons, his five SEC championships and a national championship, some fans are wondering if Calipari can keep up in NIL world. There is also the argument it has been 12 long years since he brought home the big trophy.

The past two years, the Wildcats are 1-2 in the NCAA Tournament.

Most of the grumbling stops when it gets to his $53 million buyout.

Kentucky may be in an unfamiliar fourth place in the SEC, but no Wildcat should be unhappy with Saturday's game that left the Razorbacks 14-15 overall and 5-11 in conference play.

Until Kentucky's defense started contesting every shot and every dribble, Arkansas was playing perhaps its best game of the season. At the half, Razorback fans had to be asking themselves where this team has been all season.

Definitely they have been better since Battle took on a more 0ffensive role. He led all scorers with 34 points and in the past three games is averaging more than 33 points per game.

Until that mind-numbing final eight minutes, it looked like Arkansas was going to make history in a way Kentucky fans would have howled about for months.

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