Kentucky may just be college basketball’s blue-skinned version of the big brute.
The top-ranked Wildcats improved to 29-0 on the season by crushing No. 18 Arkansas 84-67 on Saturday at Rupp Arena after being reminded all week that the Razorbacks swept last year's matchups and were gunning for a rare four-game win streak over UK.
"We beat 'em a couple of times, and I'm sure they were pissed off about that too," Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said of the Wildcats. "They came to play."
"Guys had a little chip on their shoulder from the last couple of games," UK freshman forward Trey Lyles admitted. "They wanted to go out there and perform well and beat them. We ended up with a different kind of swagger tonight."
Added sophomore point guard Andrew Harrison, who matched Lyles for team-high scoring honors with 18 points: "That just proves that we are up for a challenge."
Kentucky also got double-figure scoring from freshman guards Tyler Ulis (14) and Devin Booker (10), as well as seven points, nine rebounds, four blocked shots and two steals from junior center Willie Cauley-Stein in a strong all-around performance. Sophomore guard Aaron Harrison chipped in with nine points, seven rebounds and a career-high five steals, underscoring UK's depth of talent.
UK coach John Calipari said his team had one of its best practices of the season while stranded by a winter storm Thursday in Starkville following their win over Mississippi State the previous night. Another top-notch workout followed on Friday in Lexington.
“I think they were looking forward to this game,” he said.
Kentucky raced to an 11-2 lead and held a 42-26 advantage at halftime. The Cats led by as many as 31 points with 8:01 remaining in the game before Arkansas closed with a 20-6 spurt long after the outcome had been decided.
“I thought we would give Kentucky a run for their money in this game,” Anderson said. “It seemed like they came out real focused, and that’s credit to John Calipari and this team… They kind of punched us and put us back on our heels, and before you know it, they had a 16 point lead at halftime. We came out at halftime and gave a better effort, but we were always fighting up hill."
With the win, the Cats clinched their 46th SEC regular season championship in the program's storied history.
Arkansas (23-6, 12-4 SEC) was held to 37.5 percent shooting from the field, including a 5-for-18 day from beyond the 3-point arc. Michael Qualls and Bobby Portis had 17 and 15 points, respectively, to lead the Razorbacks.
In this AllWildcats "Rapid Recap" feature, we touch on some of the day's highs and lows:
WHAT WE LIKED: Once again, Kentucky rose to the occasion when matched up against a team that looked like a legitimate threat. UK opponents are finding that the lower the profile, the better their chances might be. The Cats have beaten their six ranked opponents by an average of 17.2 points and held them to 31 percent shooting from the field while others have fared better while flying under the upset-alert radar.
GAME BALL: Trey Lyles, who set a new career scoring high on Wednesday night against Mississippi State, matched it on Saturday with an 8-for-10 shooting effort from the field. He also hit both of his free throws, grabbed four rebounds, dished out an assist and blocked a shot. An honorable mention to Andrew Harrison, who matched Lyles in the scoring column and did a masterful job of handling the Hogs' pressure and attacking the lane from the point.
STAT OF THE DAY: Kentucky had just nine turnovers against an Arkansas defense that came in No. 1 in the SEC forcing 16.6 opponent miscues per game. Until the “garbage time” stretch of the game, the Razorbacks had scored a meager four points off turnovers. Primary ballhandlers Andrew Harrison and Tyler Ulis had just two turnovers between them.
BY THE NUMBERS:
0:00 – Time that UK trailed in Saturday’s game. The Cats have led for all but 149 minutes and one second this season out of a possible 1175 minutes of action.
16 – Points off turnovers for UK, who has won or tied the opponent in that stat column every game this season.
24-7 – The bench scoring advantage for UK, which proved to be the final margin. The starters for each team scored 60 points.
49-1 – UK’s record when playing as the No. 1 team in the nation at Rupp Arena. The lone setback occurred on Jan. 9, 1988, against Auburn, a 53-52 win by the Tigers.
QUOTABLE: “It’s not what we had out there today, that’s for sure.” – Arkansas coach Mike Anderson when asked what it’s going to take to beat the top-ranked Cats.
UP NEXT: Kentucky returns to action Tuesday at Georgia in a 9 p.m. ET tipoff on ESPN. The Bulldogs (19-9, 10-6 SEC) routed Missouri 68-44 on Saturday.