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Ashley Scoby: Wildcats ‘remember last year,’ pay back Razorbacks with dominating win


Tyler Ulis and Aaron Harrison applied the defensive pressure in Kentucky's lopsided win over No. 18 Arkansas, its 29th win without a loss on the season (UK Athletics Photo)

Tyler Ulis and Aaron Harrison applied the defensive pressure in Kentucky’s lopsided win over No. 18 Arkansas, its 29th win without a loss on the season (UK Athletics Photo)

 

Nine McDonald’s All-Americans are one thing. But nine McDonald’s All-Americans with motivation and a killer instinct is a whole new level, and it’s a level that No. 1 Kentucky reached Saturday in its 84-67 win over No. 18 Arkansas. The game wasn’t as close as the final 17-point margin.
 

“We just remember last year,” said Andrew Harrison, who finished with 18 points, three assists and a steal in 27 minutes. “We lost to them (Arkansas) twice (last year) and we didn’t want that to happen again. We know what they’re capable of.”
 

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With the blowout victory, Kentucky moves on to 29-0 on the season, which becomes the longest-ever season-opening win streak in Southeastern Conference history.
 

The Wildcats also won the conference outright on Saturday, their 46th in program history.
 

The Razorbacks did beat the Wildcats twice last season – once at Rupp Arena. And for a Kentucky team led by several sophomores (Andrew and Aaron Harrison, Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee) and juniors (Willie Cauley-Stein and injured Alex Poythress), that memory was the necessary ingredient for a blowout of the second-best team in the conference.
 

Kentucky jumped out to 11-2, 21-10 and 32-16 leads in the first half. The 24,416 in attendance got raucous early after Willie Cauley-Stein smacked Alandise Harris’ shot against the backboard, throwing Rupp Arena into a frenzy, as the 7-footer stared down at the fallen Harris, with a look that could have melted the court.
 

“When we start playing the game like that, it’s just hard to beat us,” Tyler Ulis said.
 

It never really got better for the Razorbacks, as they headed into the halftime break behind 42-26 and “not playing our style of basketball,” according to Michael Qualls, who finished with a team-leading 17 points. Kentucky played that first half largely without one of its best players in Karl-Anthony Towns, who was in the first half for only three minutes because of foul trouble.
 

Arkansas’ run-and-gun approach didn’t stop Kentucky at all, and simply made for more shot opportunities for the Wildcats. Finishing 29-of-60 from the field, Kentucky put four players in double figures: Harrison with 18, Trey Lyles with 18 (matching his previous career-high), Ulis with 14 and Devin Booker with 10.
 

“We wanted to score 100 points because of how we knew they could play,” said Kentucky head coach John Calipari. “There are other games where you have to hold it a little bit, grind it out. But not this game.”
 

If Arkansas thought it could make it more competitive in the second half, then the Wildcats’ desire to soul-crush only increased.
 

Arkansas climbed to within 13 points with 18:12 to play, but Kentucky went on a quick 7-0 burst that included an Andrew Harrison trey and a Lyles layup.
 

“I thought Andrew was, like, ridiculous,” Calipari said. “Andrew just dominated the game. In my mind, he was the best guard on the floor.”
 

With Harrison driving at will and most other Wildcats being able to score, too, a “close” game became a blowout. The margin hovered around the 20-point mark for a while, but Kentucky blew it open to a 31-point lead with 8:01 remaining with a Ulis three-pointer.
 

Between the 10:58 and 8:01 marks of the second half, Kentucky went on a 13-2 run that got the crowd even more involved and Arkansas in even more trouble.
 

The closest Arkansas would come after that was 16 points with a minute remaining.
 

Ulis’ free throw to set the final score of 84-67 also sealed the deal on a growing trend in Kentucky’s season – a dominance of ranked teams. In the Wildcats’ six wins against ranked opponents this year, the margin of victory has been an average of 17.2 points a game.
 

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And Kentucky has held those six ranked opponents to an average of 31.3-percent field goal shooting.
 

Out of 240 possible minutes against teams in the top 25 this year, Kentucky has trailed for only 22:11.
 

But the most important stat of all? Out of 29 games, Kentucky has lost none of them. And its coach already has his eyes on the next phase.
 

“I wish the regular season was over with,” Calipari said. “We got to play these games. Let’s just try to play them, try to get better.”
 

Ashley Scoby is a senior journalism major at the University of Kentucky and a KyForward sports writer. She has reported on the Wildcats for wildcathoops.com, vaughtsviews.com andkysportsreport.com as well as for newspapers in Danville and Glasgow. She will begin a summer internship with Sports Illustrated magazine in New York this June.


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