BASKETBALL: Big Blue Nation Embraces Pelphrey

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Arkansas center Steven Hill said John Pelphrey didn't want to make his first trip to Rupp Arena as the Razorbacks' coach a big deal Saturday afternoon.

But the Kentucky faithful — who still fondly remember Pelphrey from his playing days with the Wildcats — wouldn't let it go unnoticed.

Pelphrey received an extended standing ovation when he walked out on the floor of Rupp Arena before the 63-58 loss. He earned another during pregame introductions, which he acknowledged by waving to the crowd.

"He didn't want to make a big deal out of it," Hill said. "But you have to tip your hat to Kentucky fans with the way they welcomed him home."

The warm reception wasn't unexpected. Pelphrey was part of a four-player group known in Kentucky lore as the "Unforgettables" because of their dedication to the program during a rocky time.

In fact, the Wildcats think so much of the group that all four players had their jerseys retired. The jerseys hang in the rafters with other Kentucky legends like Adolph Rupp, Jamal Mashburn and Pat Riley.

"There's a lot of memories here," said Pelphrey, who admitted it was emotional walking into the arena. "It doesn't get in the way of the job we're trying to get done. I'm not going to say I'm any different than anybody else, but I loved this place when I played here. I had a deep affection for it."

But it didn't change what Pelphrey wanted to do Saturday: Win.

Hill said Pelphrey didn't "say a word" about his Kentucky ties before the game and treated it like any other. It looked that way, too. Pelphrey stomped the sideline, yelled at officials and tried to energize his team by pumping his fists or shouting "Come on" during critical moments.

His efforts couldn't help the Razorbacks win, but Pelphrey — whose parents were in attendance — said it was a memorable experience.

"I thought it was pretty cool," Pelphrey said. "I'm still very humbled about the chance to have played here. Had great coaches, great teammates. I was very, very fortunate."

Weems Recovers

Arkansas senior Sonny Weems struggled in the first half, but was the primary reason the Hogs were in striking distance in the closing minutes.

Weems, who was 1-for-7 from the floor in the first half, scored 22 of his 26 points after the break. He opened the second with a 3-pointer that keyed an 11-2 Arkansas run and finished 10-for-20 from the field.

"I just played within the offense," Weems said. "I just took it. It wasn't anything spectacular."

The Razorbacks turned to Weems in the final minute after guard Ramel Bradley's jumper gave the ‘Cats a 57-55 lead. But Weems couldn't answer with a bucket of his own on a fadeaway shot and Kentucky held on.

"I think I rushed it," Weems said. "I think I could've pulled it out. We could've run our offense, but I think I panicked and rushed it a little bit."

Shoot It Gary

Weems wasn't the only Arkansas player that had a chance to tie the game late. Guard Gary Ervin passed up two chances to shoot a 3-pointer in the closing seconds. Arkansas eventually turned the ball over.

Ervin — who scored all eight of his points in the first half and hit both of his 3-point attempts — said he regretted the decision.

"I was real close to shooting it," Ervin said. "That's the only thing I could think about sitting on the bench. I had two opportunities. ... But there was a lot of time on the clock and Sonny was on a roll. I had to run a play."

Reunion Weekend

Pelphrey's return to Rupp Arena wasn't the only reunion Saturday.

Kentucky assistant Jeremy Cox — who previously coached at Arkansas-Fort Smith from 2003-06 — saw one of his former players in Weems. The Arkansas senior played for Cox for two seasons and was part of the 2006 National Junior College Championship team.

Another Kentucky assistant, Glen Cyprien, worked on former coach Stan Heath's staff last season. Cyprien — who briefly served as Arkansas' interim coach after Heath was fired — was hired by Gillispie.

Free Throws

Guard Patrick Beverley scored a season-low four points against the Wildcats. The sophomore, who is averaging 11.8 points a game, was 1-for-8 from the floor. ... Kentucky committed 10 fouls Saturday, while the Hogs were whistled for 21. It was the third time in four games Arkansas committed more than 20 fouls. ... Michael Washington started at power forward against the Wildcats, but Charles Thomas was on the floor to open the second half. Thomas played 24 minutes, while Washington played 16.

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