Kentucky 78, Arkansas 76 (Final)

Here's the take of HI.com publisher Clay Henry from Rupp Arena after the Hogs lost an 18-point lead to fall to Kentukcy's Wildcats on Sunday. This is a commentary.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – What is it that Arkansas lacks under Stan Heath? What is it that keeps the Hogs from closing out basketball victories on the road in Southeastern Conference play?

Arkansas lost in overtime at Alabama after leading by 13 in the second half. Sunday at Rupp Arena the Hogs led Kentucky by 18 in the first half and by 16 in the first minute of the second half. This time the Hogs didn't make it to overtime. They weren't ever close despite what the final margin might suggest.

After scoring just four points in the game's first nine minutes, the Wildcats splattered the Hogs' defense for 55 second-half points en route to a 78-76 victory on Sunday afternoon.

Heath was asked afterwards if the Hogs lacked mental toughness down the stretch. Of course, he didn't think that was the problem. He cited the fight his team showed in the final minute to get the final margin back to a single basket when Ronnie Brewer's 3-pointer fell with 1.7 seconds to play.

That's not the point. From the 19:18 mark of the second half when the Hogs led 39-23, they were outscored, 47-22, to trail 70-61 with 1:41 left. It was that stretch when the Hogs appeared to lack toughness.

"No team had shot above 40 percent against us in SEC play," Heath said. "They shellacked that in the second half."

Indeed, the Wildcats went from shooting 38.5 percent in the first half to 60 percent in the second. So how did they do that?

"Our intensity and grit slipped," Heath said.

Tubby Smith, the veteran UK coach, was talking about grit in the other dressing room, too. It was grit that he said lifted the Wildcats.

"I thought we showed a lot of grit, a lot of moxie, and a lot of heart to get back in it," Smith said.

Grit, toughness, moxie, heart. What is all of that really? I think it is defense -- defense against the point guard, defense against the center. Going after rebounds. Arkansas had all of that in the first half, but Kentucky was the best in those areas in the second half.

In the Hogs' three SEC road losses at Mississippi State, Alabama and Kentucky, the key component down the stretch was lack of defense against the opposition's point guards. In each of those three games, the Hogs gave up penetration for layups at critical points. It happened again Sunday.

This time it was Kentucky's Rajon Rondo's ability to beat first Dontell Jefferson and later Eric Ferguson as the shot clock ticked into single digits. Rondo scored 14 points, added five assists and five steals in his 33 minutes.

Earlier it was Kentucky center Randolph Morris destroying the Hogs late in the first half when the home team got its crowd back in the game with a run to close the deficit to 12 at halftime.

Morris scored 19 points with 8 rebounds. Per the usual, he finished with four fouls, but was never really in foul trouble. He didn't get his first until the 18:10 mark of the second half. The second didn't come until the 6:35 mark.

The Hogs wanted to take it to Morris and tried to get him in foul trouble. Brewer was battered by Morris on several drives to the bucket, once getting clubbed in the head on a no call.

"I played the same way I've been playing, driving to the rim," Brewer said. "I didn't get calls today. I am going to keep going to the rack, playing the way I've been playing. I can't change the way I'm playing. I tried to talk to the refs a little to see what they thought about some of those. But it doesn't do any good. We didn't convert the plays and didn't get calls.

"I'm just going to keep going to the rack. What happened today is tough. But I thought we showed some guts, too. We kept going inside and just weren't getting anything. We did want to take it at Morris. That was our plan."


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