Second-Half Shutdown

FAYETTEVILLE -- Frustrated by a trio of Steven Hill baskets, Tubby Smith burst out of his chair Saturday and signaled for a timeout.

His Wildcats struggled with Hill in the first half, awakening a sellout crowd of 19,739 in Bud Walton Arena, and Hill's continued dominance rankled Kentucky's coach.

Smith's next move, which fueled Kentucky's 82-74 victory, couldn't exactly be classified as conventional. With the Wildcats trailing by 12 points early in the second half, he yanked Randolph Morris -- his 6-foot-11, 259-pound center -- from the lineup.

"Randolph was having a tough time keeping the ball out of the post," Smith said. "So we went small. We needed some quickness. We needed to do a better job of guarding the interior."

The shakeup produced immediate results.

Kentucky ripped off a 15-4 spurt after an Arkansas bucket, using its full-court press and intense half-court man-to-man defense to creep back into the contest. The Wildcats (17-5, 6-2) eventually denied Arkansas (14-8, 3-5) first place in the Southeastern Conference Western Division and handed the Hogs their second home loss.

Without forward Charles Thomas, who watched in a black suit from the Arkansas bench because of a right shoulder injury, the Razorbacks couldn't muster consistent post play.

Smith admitted that Thomas' absence affected the outcome.

"Thomas might have meant the difference in the game," Smith said.

Throughout the first half and right after halftime, even without Thomas, Arkansas encountered little resistance in getting its 7-footer involved.

On the Hogs' first possession, Hill backed down on Morris, pivoted into the lane and lofted in a 4-footer. Later in the half, Hill scored on a tip-in and on a layup after spinning around Morris. His only assist of the first 20 minutes, for a Stefan Welsh 3-pointer, came amidst Arkansas' 17-4 half-closing run.

"He was aggressive with the ball and made some great moves in the paint," Arkansas coach Stan Heath said.

Hill didn't get the same chances after Smith's removal of Morris. Smith brought in 6-8 Sheray Thomas, who formed an athletic duo with 6-8 Bobby Perry that stymied the Razorback post players with double-teams and nabbed key offensive rebounds.

At the same time, when Arkansas actually broke Kentucky's press without committing a turnover, the Hogs failed to break through the Wildcat guards' stingy defense.

"Kentucky's perimeter defense played tighter and tougher," Arkansas forward Darian Townes said. "They've got long arms."

The collective reach of 6-2 Ramel Bradley, 6-5 Joe Crawford and 6-6 Derrick Jasper kept Hill and Townes from touching the ball, something for which Morris was thankful.

"I don't know why they went away from (throwing it inside)," Morris said. "It seemed to be effective."

And as the Razorbacks struggled with Kentucky's pressure, their stagnant ways on the offensive end reappeared. Too many possessions ended in wild, desperation shots. Too many concluded with erratic passes that contributed to Arkansas' 19 turnovers.

Plus, while Hill and Townes held Morris to less-than-normal production (14 points, two rebounds), defensive stops didn't come often for the Hogs in the second half. Kentucky's guards, led by Ramel Bradley's career-high 24 points, torched Arkansas in the second half and helped the Wildcats score 49 points over the final 16 minutes.

All that considered, though, Hill still realized the Hogs didn't have to waste a 53.8 field-goal percentage. They didn't have to waste Patrick Beverley's game-high 25 points. They didn't have to waste Townes' game-high 10 rebounds.

They didn't have to waste a double-digit lead for the second consecutive year against Kentucky.

They merely needed to adapt. And they didn't.

"When they made those adjustments, we had to make adjustments," Hill said. "I thought that was the story of the game -- we didn't make the adjustments."

Hawgs Daily Top Stories