Arkansas and Kentucky each have work to do over the final four weeks of the regular season to ensure they are part of the NCAA Tournament field.
But one of the two squads will pick up their eighth setback of the campaign when the Razorbacks visit the Wildcats on Tuesday night in Lexington, Ky.
Kentucky (16-7, 7-3 SEC) has won its last six conference games with its lone recent loss coming against Kansas in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge on Jan. 28. The Wildcats defeated Florida 72-67 on Saturday to improve to 12-2 at home.
Arkansas (16-7, 5-5) has won four consecutive SEC games with its last setback coming against Baylor, also on Jan. 28 in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. The Razorbacks squeezed out a 65-63 road win over South Carolina on Saturday.
Kentucky began to turn its season around with a 63-56 road win over Tennessee on Jan. 14. That was the first of six wins in seven games.
Wildcats coach John Calipari points to a tough schedule — the nonconference slate included losses to Michigan State, Gonzaga and UCLA — for why the club was below projections.
And as Calipari says, there are no breathers in SEC play.
“You play a good schedule, you’re going to lose some games,” Calipari said. “You play a team that’s trying to figure themselves out, it takes some time. Now, it’s not done. With this schedule — what we’re doing is staying the course.”
Cason Wallace scored 20 points in Kentucky’s win over Florida. Reigning National Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe had just four points but collected 15 rebounds.
Tshiebwe leads the Wildcats with averages of 15.9 points and 13.6 rebounds and also has 33 steals. Arkansas coach Eric Musselman is expecting to see the best of Tshiebwe.
“The biggest thing is he plays volleyball with offensive rebounds,” Musselman said of Tshiebwe. “He’s so quick off his feet. He draws fouls around the rim. Defensively, he’s got good anticipation. He’s a high, high steal player for his position. He blocks shots at the defensive end. He’s just tenacious. He’s relentless on the glass and so you’ve got to match that energy.”
The Razorbacks’ win over South Carolina was their first true road victory in six attempts this season. Anthony Black scored the go-ahead layup with 1:21 left to play.
Arkansas started off 11-1 before losing five of its next six games. Trevon Brazile’s season-ending ACL injury and the persistent knee issues of prized freshman Nick Smith Jr. have hurt the team’s depth.
Ricky Council Jr. leads the Razorbacks with a 17.0 scoring average.
Arkansas has won the past two meetings after Kentucky prevailed the previous eight times.
–Field Level Media