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Ashley Scoby: Arkansas looks good on paper, but will it be enough to bring Wildcats down?

Arkansas, Kentucky's opponent Saturday, has some pretty good numbers to suggest a competitive game - until you compare them to Kentucky's (Jamie Vaught Photo)

Arkansas, Kentucky’s opponent Saturday, has some pretty good numbers to suggest a competitive game – until you compare them to Kentucky’s (Jamie Vaught Photo)


If you put Arkansas’ season statistics in a bubble, they would look well-balanced and impressive.

Eight players average 14 minutes or more. Two players are in double figures scoring for the season (Bobby Portis with 18.3 points a game and Michael Qualls with 14.9). Six players average at least 6.8 points. And nine Razorbacks are at least 6-foot-5 or taller. Not too shabby, right?

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Of course, those are pretty solid numbers before you put them next to the notoriously big and well-balanced Kentucky team (10 players at 6-foot-6 or taller). Eight players average at least 17 minutes (seven of those average at least 20). And that’s not even counting the 20.3 minutes a game Alex Poythress was playing before going down for the season with an injury.

The top scorer on the undefeated and consensus No. 1 team averages 11.2 points a game – that’s all. But he (Aaron Harrison) is one of seven Kentucky players who average at least 7.3 points a game.

Arkansas is balanced, but not balanced and deep enough for Kentucky.

Rinse, repeat: That will continue to be the case for Kentucky all year long.

But if there is to be an SEC team that is balanced and deep enough to match up with Kentucky (there hasn’t really been one yet), it would be Arkansas. The Razorbacks come to Rupp Arena on Saturday (4 p.m., CBS), and they’re ranked the No. 18 team in the country. They’re also second overall in the conference, with a 12-3 record in the SEC, part of a 23-5 overall mark.

Arkansas is about as comparable of a team to Kentucky as you’re going to get in the SEC. But the Razorbacks still don’t come close to the yin and yang the Wildcats exhibit.

When one group is down, another is up for Kentucky. If Aaron Harrison doesn’t score a point, Andrew will. If Karl-Anthony Towns only has one basket, there is Dakari Johnson or Willie Cauley-Stein. This year, Kentucky has had eight different players lead the team in scoring at least once. Arkansas has had only two games this season where the leading scorer was not Portis or Qualls.

So is Arkansas somewhat balanced? Of course. But not compared to Kentucky (raise your hand if you’ve heard that before).

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The Razorbacks will – barring anything drastic – be the last real challenge the Wildcats will face before the post-season begins. Florida comes to town on March 7, but the Gators have fallen apart down the stretch (after a start that wasn’t eye-popping to begin with). Arkansas will be the first top 25 team Kentucky has faced since it played Louisville in December.

Sanwiched between the two Saturday contests, there is a late Tuesday game at Georgia.

Will there be rust? There could be. But the benefit for Kentucky is that even if half its team is rusty, then the other half can surely pick up the slack. Someone — or several someones — is always ready to step into the breech.

Ashley Scoby is a senior journalism major at the University of Kentucky and a sports writer for KyForward.com. She has reported on the Wildcats for wildcathoops.com, vaughtsviews.com and kysportsreport.com as well as for newspapers in Danville and Glasgow. She will join Sports Illustrated magazine as a summer intern in June.

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