The Arkansas game plan included limiting Kentucky's offensive rebounds, defending Chuck Hayes and Patrick Sparks, shooting foul shots well and limiting turnovers. The Hogs had winning numbers in all of those categories, but not on the scoreboard.
Kentucky, held to just seven offensive rebounds, hit the key shots in the clutch to earn a 68-67 victory at Bud Walton Arena on Saturday.
"We did everything to give us a chance that we talked about," said Stan Heath, the Arkansas coach. "When you play Kentucky, rebounding is important. We knew we had to make our foul shots. We knew we had to take care of the ball. We did all of those things and even held down their two best players in Hayes and Sparks.
"We didn't count on some of the things the other players did for them. I'm not saying they can't play. If you are at Kentucky, you are a good player. But the X-factor guys played well for them today, guys like Bobby Perry, Ravi Moss and Rajon Rondo. They made some big shots."
The Hogs won the battle of the glass, 37-30, including 21-7 in offensive rebounds. Of course, Kentucky shot a blistering 61.9 percent in the second half which means there were not a lot of second-chance opportunities. Conversely, the Hogs shot only 36.4 percent, making 12 of 33 in each half.
"We didn't make enough shots and Kentucky executed their offense down the stretch," said UA guard Jonathon "Pookie" Modica. "I think we played well in a lot of areas and did some of the things we targeted. We just didn't make enough shots and Kentucky did. I applaud the effort of the guys. Our team fought hard. We just have to execute better."
Injuries hurt the Hogs down the stretch. Ronnie Brewer sustained a sprained left ankle with 10:42 left. He went to the locker room for a few minutes, but did not add to his 18-point day after the injury. Mike Jones strained his groin making a layup in the game's opening seconds and did not return. Trainers said afterwards it was a severe strain.
"That's part of the game," said Heath. "Maybe later in his career, Ronnie comes back and knows how to make a play or two with that kind of an injury. It's a learning experience for a lot of our guys.
"Mike had been a big part of our offense the last few games. Who knows if he could have hit a big shot or changed the game in some way, but that's part of it."
Heath liked the shot the Hogs got at the end, a 3-point attempt at the buzzer by Eric Ferguson. It appeared Ferguson's shot hit the back iron.
"We wanted either Eric or Ronnie to take it and Eric had the fresh legs, so that was fine," Heath said. "It was one-inch off and that to go with the last one we lost at home by an inch, means we are two inches off on those two losses."
Ferguson appeared to get a bump going for the outlet pass to start the play after Hayes missed a foul shot with 5.5 seconds to play.
"I got hit pretty good," Ferguson said. "They don't call that much, but I will say it was a foul. He knocked me sideways from behind when I went up for the pass. I wanted to pass it to Ronnie, but when I saw the clock was at one second, I knew there wasn't time and I had better get it up. It looked okay. I just wish we could win one like this."
Ferguson was the defender who left Sparks open for an uncontested 15-footer with 20 seconds left to give the ‘Cats a four-point lead.
"I had him on the drive and someone came to help me," Ferguson said. "I turned and saw that my teammate had left his man wide open under the goal. I just figured a pass was coming on the play. I left my man to go to the man down low. So did my teammate. No switch and that left us both on the wrong man.
"You make mistakes sometimes. Everyone does. Things happen and you just have to keep playing. I just wish we could win one of these. We gained some confidence, but we didn't get what we really needed, a victory."
Brewer said his ankle should be fine in a day or two. It is similar to the injury sustained against Florida. He said he's had minor ankle sprains before and can come back from them in quick fashion.
"I wasn't 100 percent after I came back, but I tried to go ahead and play like I was 100 percent," he said. "I tried to make some plays, but it might not have been the same. I just wanted to give my team a spark and the crowd a spark by coming back.
"It was a great atmosphere. We had a great crowd. It gave us a lot of momentum today. But we had to make sure we didn't get to playing too fast because that would have been playing into their hand. We did want to play up-tempo on defense and not on offense. It was a real tiring game and it wore out players on both sides."
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