LEXINGTON, Ky. --- A week of distractions couldn't derail a surprisingly focused Kentucky squad, which overcame the suspension of two key players Saturday in knocking off Arkansas 71-58 at Rupp Arena.
Playing without starting guard Gerald Fitch and reserve forward Erik Daniels --- who were suspended indefinitely for violating curfew and attempting to enter a local nightclub with fake IDs --- the 12th-ranked Wildcats got double figures from five players to easily handle the Razorbacks.
Tayshaun Prince had 16 points and 10 rebounds to lead Kentucky (19-7, 9-5 SEC), his fifth double-double this season and the 12th of his career. Keith Bogans bounced back from a disappointing game against Tennessee on Tuesday with a near double-double of his own, scoring 10 points and grabbing nine rebounds.
The Cats got 12 points and seven rebounds from Marquis Estill off the bench. The junior center also recorded four of UK's 10 blocked shots. Freshmen Chuck Hayes and Rashaad Carruth each added 10 points.
"We rose to the occasion with players missing for the second game in a row," Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. "We've had limited numbers, but it seems like we play better that way... We had good balance today.
"Through adversity, sometimes good things can happen."
"It was good to show we could come out and play like that with everything that's been going on," Prince said. "It's been hard, but the guys on the court today knew we still had a job to do."
Kentucky shot 45 percent (24 of 53) from the field and hit 16 of 20 at the foul line, a stat line particularly pleasing to Smith. He credited the good figures in both columns to the Cats' execution.
"We made a conscious effort (to get the ball inside) because we've shot ourselves out of some games," he said. "We talked about not taking the 3 until it went inside first."
For only the 10th time this season, the Cats attempted more free throws than 3-pointers. Despite ranking next to last in team 3-point percentage (.311), it marked only the fifth time it's happened in league play.
"Coach told us we have to look inside first," said Estill, who responded by going 3-of-5 from the field and 6-for-7 at the line. "We knew we had the big size advantage in there, and we had to establish that first. By doing that, it got the outside going, too, with Rashaad hitting some big shots."
Carruth scored all 10 of his points in a span of 1:34 upon entering the game midway through the first half. He buried three treys and hit a free throw to give the Cats a 30-23 advantage and energize the crowd at the 7:30 mark.
"I could feel the crowd getting into it," Carruth said. "I love it when I make a couple of shots and get the place fired up. That's my job."
Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson thought it was the first of two key moments in the game.
"We were really concerned about him because he can really shoot the ball," Richardson said. "We were yelling and screaming, but didn't get out there on him. If he misses a couple of them, the rest don't make those shots. But that got the crowd into the game when he hit those shots, and they really picked up their defense after that."
Kentucky led 41-32 at the half, and started the second period with a 7-2 spurt to take control. Arkansas pulled back within nine on a Matt Jones putback with 9:30 remaining, but could get no closer. Three consecutive turnovers in one crucial span doomed the Razorbacks' chances.
"The worst thing that happened to our ballclub was when we were making our run, we had three straight turnovers back to back to back," Richardson said. "You can't do that against a good team, especially on the road. But give Kentucky credit for making us cough it up."
The Razorbacks hit only three of 12 shots down the stretch, and had several attempts blocked or altered.
"They played at a high energy level today," Richardson said of the Cats. "...We got a lot of shots blocked or altered. I was very impressed with their jumping ability. They blocked a lot of shots today that weren't even close to the basket."
For the 13th time this season, Kentucky held the opponent to under 40 percent from the field. The Razorbacks managed just 38 percent (25 of 66) on the day.
With 13 points, Jannero Pargo was the lone player in double figures for Arkansas (13-13, 5-9 SEC). He also had eight assists and four steals.