Both No. 23 Kentucky and Arkansas will look to end the regular season on a positive note when they meet on Saturday in Fayetteville, Ark.
Arkansas is coming off back-to-back losses to ranked opponents, while Kentucky took a tough 68-66 defeat against Vanderbilt on Wednesday. After their regular-season finale, the Southeastern Conference tournament awaits, and both teams are projected to make the NCAA Tournament.
“We’ve done what we’ve needed to do,” Wildcats coach John Calipari said. “We’ve got one more game left. We got our tournament left. Now, let’s just finish it, and then let’s go to the next. We’re fine.”
Calipari kept praising his players for the fight they showed against the Commodores.
The Wildcats (20-10, 11-6 SEC) trailed by 11 in the second half and rallied to take a two-point lead with 1:10 left on a jumper by Oscar Tshiebwe’. Vanderbilt’s Jordan Wright scored the next two baskets, and the Wildcats’ Antonio Reeves missed a 3-point attempt at the buzzer.
“We fought and did everything we could to give ourselves a chance to win,” Calipari said. “We just needed to make one more shot.”
Kentucky’s biggest issue going forward is the point guard position. Sahvir Wheeler remains sidelined due to an ankle injury and is unlikely to return before the start of the NCAA Tournament.
Freshman Cason Wallace injured his left ankle early in the second half against Vanderbilt and left the game for good. Calipari is hopeful Wallace can play against the Razorbacks.
“But I don’t know,” Calipari said. “If not, we’ve got to figure out how we (run the offense) against pressure.”
After Wallace’s injury, Reeves moved from shooting guard to take over point guard duties.
Arkansas (19-11, 8-9) played No. 2 Alabama to the wire in an 86-83 road loss on Feb. 25 but was much less competitive in a 75-57 loss at No. 12 Tennessee on Tuesday, trailing by as many as 24 points in the second half.
“We didn’t bounce back like we had hoped after playing Alabama,” Razorbacks coach Eric Musselman said. “We’ll continue to do what we’ve done with all of our teams and go back and prepare. We’ve got to do a better job, obviously.
“We took a step backward, there’s no question. Both as a team and individually, we took several steps backward.”
Some of Arkansas’ offensive troubles stemmed from 16 turnovers, 10 of which Musselman said came from “our primary ball-handlers,” including six by Anthony Black.
“And there were a lot of passes (Tuesday) that were just thrown out of bounds,” Musselman said.
The Razorbacks had other issues on offense. They shot 36.7 percent from the floor, and their point total matched their second-lowest of the season, just one more point than the season low in a 62-56 loss at Texas A&M. Tennessee held a 42-18 advantage in points in the paint.
“We didn’t go in there, and when we did, we didn’t finish,” Musselman said. “Tennessee is really strong. They’re really physical.
“We were going in there and not finishing against verticality. You need to go and attack the rim against a physical team. You need to get in the body, and we did not do that from a physical standpoint.”
–Field Level Media