Kentucky Blues

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas did everything it was supposed to do to beat No. 7 Kentucky.

The Razorbacks outrebounded the Wildcats 37-30. They made 16 of 21 free throws and they turned it over 13 times to Kentucky's 19.

They held Wildcats leaders Chuck Hayes and Patrick Sparks to a combined nine points and had three players score as many or more than the team-high 13 by Kentucky junior Kelenna Azubuike.

It still wasn't enough as a last-second shot didn't go Arkansas' way Saturday for the third time in its last five games.

Eric  Ferguson's 3-point attempt at the buzzer was on-line but an inch or two long and caromed high off the back iron to give Kentucky a 68-67 win before a season-high (and eighth all-time) crowd of 20,268 in Bud Walton Arena.

"This was a tough one to swallow," said Arkansas coach Stan Heath, who crumpled to the court after Ferguson's shot bounced away. "We did everything we could to give ourselves a chance to win the game."

The loss to Kentucky (16-2, 7-0 Southeastern Conference) was the third heartbreaker for Arkansas (14-6, 2-5) this month in a game that featured six lead changes and five ties.

Arkansas blew a nine-point, first-half lead and Ferguson missed a 3 that could have sent the Hogs to overtime in a 64-61 loss against No. 14 Alabama on Jan. 11 in Fayetteville and a Mike Jones shot from the top of the key was ruled a 2 at LSU on Jan. 19 to send Arkansas to a 66-63 overtime loss instead of a 59-58 win.

"It's frustrating when you lose," said Arkansas sophomore Ronnie Brewer, who had a game-high 18 points but didn't score after turning his left ankle with 10:42 to play in the second half and missing nearly three minutes of a crucial stretch when a 50-all tie turned into a 55-50 Kentucky lead.

"Of course we're not happy with the loss. But we gave all we could give. We gave 100 percent. We fought to the end, and we had a great look at the end. We got the shot we wanted, it just didn't go in for us."

Kentucky coach Tubby Smith left with his record in Walton Arena improved to 2-3 and said he's glad there's no return trip by Arkansas to Lexington this season.

"It's just a matter of time before they start making moves up," Smith said. "We made some clutch plays and that's what it's going to take. They've had some close calls, and they need to win one of those games to get some confidence."

Arkansas made a series of clutch plays in the final 90 seconds to set up Ferguson's game-winning attempt, but Kentucky's offensive execution down the stretch made the difference.

Olu Famutimi, who scored 4 of his 13 points in the closing moments to somewhat atone for a rough 5 of 15 shooting day, collected one of his game-high 9 rebounds (one of Arkansas' 21 offensive) and scored to make it 64-61, Kentucky, with 1:32 to play. But Darian Townes didn't recover quickly enough on a ball screen on Kentucky's next possession and Sparks hit Bobby Perry for an easy layup and a 66-61 lead.

"He just put a nice little bounce pass on the floor and it was perfect," said Perry, who finished with 9 points and 4 rebounds off the bench. "That play has been really good for us the last few games. That is exactly how the play is designed."

Heath called a timeout and Jonathon  Modica hit a leaner and was fouled, converting a three-point play to get Arkansas within 66-64 with 53.2 seconds left.

Kentucky ran the same two-man game with Sparks and Perry again with the shot clock winding down and this time Arkansas doubled Perry but left Sparks wide-open to knock down just his second field goal of the game to put Kentucky up 68-64 with 20.4 seconds left.

"I tried to go to the man under the basket, and he faked both of us and hit that shot," Ferguson said.

Ferguson whipped around a screen on the next play and drained a 3-pointer in front of the Arkansas bench to get the Hogs within 68-67 with 10 seconds remaining.

Arkansas got the break it needed when Hayes missed the front end of a one-and-one free-throw attempt.

Ferguson took a tough outlet pass from Famutimi at halfcourt as he was nearly undercut by Sparks, but he recovered and dribbled to just left of the top of the key -- nearly the same spot as his Alabama attempt -- and released his shot as the clock expired.

Arkansas must put this game behind it as it heads back to the unkind SEC road where it has lost its last 12 games. The Razorbacks head to South Carolina and Ole Miss on Wednesday and Saturday, respectively.

"I thought it was a good look. I thought it was going in," Ferguson said.

"We just have to keep our confidence. If we do that, we can do well in these last few games. I give credit to my guys. They came out and fought. Kentucky, they're one of the best in the country. They know what to do at crunch time."

Besides Brewer's late injury, Arkansas had two other setbacks that cut into its bench.

Jones, a recent starter who had averaged 11.3 points in his last three games, injured his groin just a minute into the game while making a layup to give Arkansas a 4-0 lead and did not return. Heath said it was too soon to know about Jones' status.

Townes, who scored 16 on 7 of 10 shooting, got his third foul less than a minute into the second half and got his fourth less than 30 seconds after scoring on an offensive rebound to give Arkansas a 48-46 lead with 9:59 to play.

At one point late in the second half, three of Arkansas' best scorers weren't available.

Townes was benched with foul trouble and Brewer joined Jones in the locker room to get his ankle retaped.

Hayes, who played just five minutes in the first half with two fouls, wasn't a factor in the game until he made a nice pass from the top of the key to a backcutting Rajon Rondo for a 64-57 Kentucky lead with 3:03 to play.

"If you'd told me we shut down Sparks and Hayes, I say we win the game," Heath said. "Those are the things you don't totally count on. You know they're (Perry and Ravi Moss, who combined for 16 points) good players, but you don't count on them being the ones that beat you."

Arkansas didn't know how effective Hayes, who averages 9.1 rebounds and 11.1 points per game, would be in a protective mask after breaking his nose Tuesday in a win at Tennessee and the Razorbacks never found out in the first half.

Hayes made his first shot and grabbed a rebound before collecting two fouls in less than 45 seconds and taking a seat for the final 15 minutes of the first half.

The Razorbacks hit the glass like they haven't hit it all season and took advantage of Hayes' absence to win the rebounding battle 21-15 in the first half.

The biggest advantage for Arkansas came on the offensive glass.

The Razorbacks followed their shots for 12 offensive rebounds and finished with 14 second-chance points and 18 in the paint.

Arkansas didn't need to hit the offensive glass in the first four minutes as it got off to a perfect start, making its first four shots and two free throws to hold a 10-8 lead.

Townes sank a turnaround jumper over Randolph Morris, Jones finished a fast break, Brewer posted up and scored over Rondo and Ferguson knocked down an elbow-high jumper with the shot-clock nearing zero.

Kentucky built leads of six and five points keyed by 3-pointers by Moss and Ramel Bradley and 3 of 4 successful free throws by Morris.

Arkansas worked its way back from a 27-22 deficit with a 10-3 run to lead 33-30 late in the first half and the Razorbacks took a 33-32 lead to the lockerroom despite shooting 36.4 percent to Kentucky's 52.

"Our team showed a lot of grit," Heath said. "They know that's something we have to play with all the time and will take us a long way."




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