Hogs Make Program History vs Kentucky in Surgical Road Win

Oscar Tschiebwe, Makhi Mitchell, Arkansas basketball, Arkansas vs Kentucky
photo credit: Kentucky Athletics / Arkansas Athletics

LIVE UPDATES – Arkansas vs Kentucky

Pregame Tidbits

For the third straight game, the Razorbacks are starting the Mitchell twins alongside each other, plus the usual trio of guards. That’s not surprising considering they have to face Oscar Tshiebwe.

It sounds like the Wildcats will be without starting point guard Sahvir Wheeler:

7:42, 1H – Arkansas 24, Kentucky 23

Both teams are shooting at a pretty high clip early on. At the U8 media timeout, the Razorbacks are 9 of 16 (56.3%) and the Wildcats are 10 of 21 (47.6%).

Davonte Davis just had a classic Devo sequence. After air-balling a deep 3, he snuck up behind a Kentucky player and stole away an inbounds pass and then made a tough shot. On the next trip, he dished to Makhel Mitchell for a nice assist.

Neither team has led by more than three points so far.

HALF – Arkansas 41, Kentucky 40

It was a highly entertaining half of basketball. It was a one-possession game one way or the other for all but 62 seconds of the half. That small stretch came when the Hogs extended their lead to six, prompting a timeout by Calipari. The Wildcats responded with the next five points.

One of the highlights of the half was an alley oop from Ricky Council IV to Anthony Black that started with a hustle rebound by Makhi Mitchell, which can be watched later.

John Calipari got a technical with 33.3 seconds left, which ultimately helped Arkansas take a lead into the break because Kentucky knocked down a jumper at the halftime buzzer to make it a one-point game.

HALFTIME STATS – Arkansas vs Kentucky

11:37, 2H – Arkansas 58, Kentucky 50

The Hogs used three early steals for three easy layups/dunks and led by as many as nine early in the second half. They are scorching hot so far, making 8 of 11 shots since halftime.

Four of the Hogs’ starters are in double figures, with Makhi Mitchell being the one who isn’t. He has 8 rebounds, though.

FINAL – Arkansas 88, Kentucky 73

Kentucky fans started streaming toward the exits with four minutes left, as Arkansas led by as many as 16 points and ended up winning by 15.

Anthony Black turned in an all-around fantastic performance with 19 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds, 5 steals and 1 block. Ricky Council IV topped him by one point with 20, while Davonte Davis and Makhel Mitchell had 15 points apiece. Jordan Walsh chipped in 13 off the bench.

FINAL STATS – Arkansas vs Kentucky

Starting Lineups

#1 – G CJ Fredrick#0 – G Anthony Black
#22 – G Cason Wallace#4 – G Davonte Davis
#0 – F Jacob Toppin#1 – G Ricky Council IV
#24 – F Chris Livingston#15 – F/C Makhi Mitchell
#34 – F Oscar Tshiebwe#22 – F/C Makhel Mitchell

Arkansas vs Kentucky Preview

It had to hold on for dear life in the final minute against South Carolina, but the Arkansas basketball team survived and returned to Fayetteville with its first road win of the season.

The Razorbacks won’t have long to bask in the glory of their fourth straight SEC win, though, as they hit the road yet again for a major matchup against Kentucky just three days after that narrow road victory over the Gamecocks. The game is set to tip off at 8 p.m. CT Tuesday and will be televised on ESPN.

Under head coach Eric Musselman, Arkansas is 2-1 against the Wildcats after beating them in back-to-back seasons — once in Lexington and once in Fayetteville. The first of those wins marked just the fourth time the Razorbacks have beaten Kentucky on its home floor.

None of those victories have come in consecutive trips to Rupp Arena, so the Razorbacks have a shot at making program history Tuesday night. In fact, a win would mark just the sixth time an opponent has won back-to-back games inside Kentucky’s storied venue.

Tennessee did it most recently, winning there in 2020 and 2021, but before that, you have to go back to 2006 and 2007, when both Florida and Vanderbilt did it — the Gators doing so en route to back-to-back national titles. Florida also did it in 1988 and 1989, while the other occurrence came at the hands of LSU in 1979 and 1980.

This year’s Wildcats were inconsistent early on, struggling in non-conference play and getting off to a 1-3 start within the SEC. That poor start was capped by an embarrassing home loss to likely the worst team in the league, the same South Carolina squad Arkansas managed to hang on and beat.

However, since then, the Kentucky basketball team has been on a tear. It has won six straight SEC games with a single-digit loss to Kansas mixed in, so it should be a tough game for Arkansas.

What to Expect from Kentucky

The Wildcats are led on both sides of the ball by the nation’s reigning AP Player of the Year, Oscar Tshiebwe. Perhaps one of the best rebounders to ever grace a college basketball court, the 6-foot-9 senior causes problems against every team he faces.

Despite being of average height at best for a center, Tshiebwe leads the country in rebounding at 13.6 per game to go along with 15.9 points per game. He’s also one of only two players in the nation with at least 110 offensive rebounds this season, joining 7-foot-4 Zach Edey of Purdue.

“The biggest thing is (Tshiebwe) plays volleyball with offensive rebounds,” Musselman said. “He’s so quick off his feet. He draws fouls around the rim. All those things. Defensively, he’s got good anticipation. He’s a high, high steal player for his position (1.7 SPG at Kentucky), he blocks shots at the defensive end. He’s just tenacious.”

Last season, despite Arkansas narrowly escaping with a win over Kentucky, Tshiebwe lit up the Razorbacks for 30 points, 18 rebounds and 3 blocks on 62% shooting. Former Razorback big man Jaylin Williams walked away from that game looking like he had just gone 10 rounds in the ring with a heavyweight boxer.

It was performances like Tshiebwe’s last season that motivated Musselman to pursue big men in the transfer portal this year. Makhi and Makhel Mitchell will have their biggest collective test of the regular season as they attempt to hold Tshiebwe in check.

Senior transfer guard Antonio Reeves leads the perimeter attack for Kentucky, averaging 13.0 points on 41% shooting from long range. Last season at Illinois State, Reeves scored over 20 points per game on 39% long-range shooting to go along with 2.1 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game.

“Reeves is a great scorer,” Musselman said. “He can really shoot the ball. You’ve got to ID him as soon as he crosses half court. He’s a really good transition 3-ball shooter. He and (CJ) Fredrick both stretch the defense out because of their ability to score the basketball.”

Fredrick, a 6-foot-3 senior guard, averages 7.7 points on 34% 3-point shooting. It’s likely that Devo Davis will draw the defensive assignment of guarding Reeves, so watch for the Hogs to rely on the length of Anthony Black and Ricky Council IV to run Fredrick off the 3-point arc.

Jacob Toppin – another senior Wildcat – is a versatile wing that has shown great improvement during his time at Kentucky. This year, the former Rhode Island transfer averages 11.7 points and 6.5 rebounds. Sahvir Wheeler rounds out the quintet of seniors playing a majority of the minutes for John Calipari’s squad, averaging 7.7 points and leading the team with 5.6 assists per game. He provides a level of speed at the point guard position that will be difficult to contain, especially if Davis is tied up with slowing down Reeves.

Cason Wallace has been one of the best two-way freshmen in the country this season. The 6-foot-4 guard is an exceptional defender – averaging 2.0 steals per game – thanks to his elite lateral quickness and anticipation, though he also averages 11.7 points on 41% shooting from distance to go along with 3.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists.

Wallace may get a crack at defending Arkansas’ Ricky Council IV, who leads the SEC in minutes played per game (35.6 mpg) and is the conference’s second-leading scorer but is in a slump from beyond the perimeter after hitting only one of his last 10 three-point attempts. Still, as Kentucky basketball assistant Orlando Antigua said, “it’s a tough matchup…. those three guards [along side Davonte Davis and Anthony Black] they’re playing 30-plus minutes a game and they all bring their own talents and abilities to the table,” Antigua said. “Ricky Council’s certainly one of those guys that on any given night can go off for 30.”

At home this season, Kentucky shoots roughly 39% from long range as a team, led by Reeves, Fredrick and Wallace. However, in its last four home games, that average has dropped to only 31% as a team, including two games shooting under 27% from long range. The Wildcats are also averaging 18.5 free throw attempts against SEC teams at home, including 30 attempts against Georgia in mid-January.

The Razorbacks’ ability to contain Kentucky from both the 3-point and free throw line will go a long way in determining the outcome of this game.

What to Expect from Arkansas

Razorback guard Devo Davis continued his exemplary stretch of play against South Carolina, scoring at least 15 points for the eighth straight game. He also tallied 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals in the Razorbacks’ narrow road victory.

In his last three road games, Davis is averaging 16.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.0 steals with 43% – 38% – 57% shooting splits. He will likely draw the difficult defensive assignment of Antonio Reeves or Cason Wallace thanks to his All-SEC level stretch of play lately. “Davonte Davis has been playing ridiculously in those last four games as well as Anthony Black,” Orlando Antigua said.

Following their monstrous combined performance against Texas A&M on their birthday, Makhel and Makhi Mitchell had very different performances against South Carolina. The Rhode Island transfers (who did not play there at the same time as Jacob Toppin) combined for only 25 minutes (20 for Makhel, 5 for Makhi), 7 points, 6 rebounds and 1 block. Jalen Graham’s team-high 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting played a big role in the Mitchell twins’ limited minutes, but there were also flaws in his game, such as him grabbing only 2 rebounds despite being 6-foot-9 and committing 3 turnovers in 21 minutes.

“The bottom line is Jalen Graham can really score the ball, but we need him to defensive rebound,” Musselman said. “People respect his offensive ability, but if you look at his turnovers per minute and defensive rebounds per minute, that’s a big part of how we can get him on the floor a little bit more.”

Against an elite rebounder in Oscar Tshiebwe, Graham could be limited more than he has been in the last four games, in which he’s averaged 18.8 minutes. The Mitchell twins will likely lead the effort on the glass, but it will require a team effort to negate Kentucky’s rebounding machine.

Don’t be surprised if Kamani Johnson earns some minutes as the seventh man in the rotation over Graham in this game primarily for his physicality and rebounding prowess. In the win last season, Johnson tallied 3 rebounds in 8 minutes against the Wildcats.

Expect Anthony Black to continue to play a big role in the rebounding battle. The 6-foot-7 point guard has had at least 5 rebounds in 16 games this season and is averaging 5.7 rebounds per game in SEC play – including 6 rebounds in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge against Baylor.

“Anthony’s just done an incredible job as a point guard of defensive rebounding,” Musselman said. “You look at our team rebounding (against South Carolina) and Anthony was our leader on the defensive backboards. Jordan Walsh led us in rebounding with 10, but our leading defensive-rebounder was Anthony Black, our freshman point guard.”

What to Watch in Arkansas vs Kentucky

Kentucky is 12-2 at home this season, including 4-1 against SEC teams at home. The Wildcats are averaging 80.0 points on 39% long-range shooting in Rupp Arena on the season, including 73.8 points per game in SEC home games.

However, the Wildcats have notably hit a wall against teams in the top 30 of the NET rankings. They’re only 1-4 on the season against such teams, including their recent loss at home to Kansas. Despite struggling through a few wins lately, Arkansas still ranks No. 29 in the NET rankings and boasts an elite defense, currently ranking No. 13 in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings.

Kentucky has played four games against teams in the top 15 in defensive efficiency, going 2-2 in these matchups despite a substantial drop in their offensive efficiency. It averaged only 60.0 points in these games while shooting only 35% from the field and 31% from long range.

Arkansas has also notably struggled with foul trouble, shooting efficiency and closing out road games this season, but it has taken massive strides as of late. Despite going 1-3 in their last four road games, Arkansas is still averaging 72.3 points on 48% shooting, including 34% from 3-point range.

Both teams are lower in the national rankings than they hoped to be at this point in the season, and with tournament season quickly approaching, they’re both desperate for resume-building wins. A road win over Kentucky could boost Arkansas back into contention for a 5- or 6-seed, but a loss would keep them fighting for an 8- or 9-seed.

Despite struggling earlier in the season, Kentucky’s recent success has them trending toward earning an at-large bid, especially if it is able to continue winning down the stretch of the regular season. The Wildcats are No. 31 in the NET rankings, making this a Quadrant 1 opportunity for both teams.

As things currently stand, both teams are projected to be 11 seeds in Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology on ESPN, which was updated Friday. However, Kentucky is one of the last four teams in, meaning it would play in the First Four, while Arkansas is one of the last four teams receiving a bye, meaning it would automatically be in the field of 64.

Game Prediction — Arkansas vs Kentucky

Arkansas will continue to play its best basketball of the season, led into battle by the scorching hot Devo Davis. The collective effort of Arkansas will limit Tshiebwe far better than they were able to accomplish last season, but Kentucky has several threats on both sides of the ball.

The Razorbacks will struggle to contain all of the Wildcat guards. Davis is capable of virtually eliminating his matchup from the game script, but the combination of Reeves, Wallace and Wheeler will be a difficult defensive test for the other Arkansas guards.

Despite a well-played, close battle, the Razorbacks won’t be able to overcome the sheer versatility of Kentucky’s roster and they’ll fall to an SEC foe for the first time in three weeks.

Kentucky, 67-63

How to Watch Arkansas vs Kentucky

Date: Tuesday, Feb. 7

Location: Rupp Arena (Lexington, Kent.)

Tipoff Time/TV Schedule: 8 p.m. CT (ESPN)

ESPN BPI: Kentucky has a 64.8% chance to win


Check out highlights from the last Arkansas vs Kentucky matchup at Rupp Arena, which the Razorbacks won:

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YouTube video

More coverage of Arkansas basketball from BoAS…

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