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Bob Dixon

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Middlesboro, KY 40965

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Go Big Blue!

Wildcats Stop Arkansas 111-102 in High-Scoring Showdown at Rupp

By Jamie H. Vaught

 

Things were really uneasy for the anxious Wildcat fans Saturday afternoon when they saw a scrappy Arkansas team raced to a nine-point lead over Kentucky at 84-75 in the late second half. It was the Razorbacks’ largest margin of the game.

 

But UK, which had a five-point advantage at the intermission, avoided another Rupp Arena disaster when it bounced back and outscored Arkansas 36-18 the rest of the way to win 111-102. The Wildcats had already lost four home games this season.

 

And it was UK freshman Rob Dillingham who did most of the damage down the stretch against the Razorbacks in the high-scoring affair. He scored or assisted on 16 straight points as Kentucky improved its overall mark to 21-8 (11-5 SEC).  Dillingham’s lob for a Justin Edwards dunk with 4:45 to play put UK ahead 93-92 and the Wildcats never trailed again.


Kentucky freshmen Zvonimir Ivisic, who had 12 points and a game-high 9 rebounds, and Rob Dillingham attempt to block a shot by Khalif Battle of Arkansas during Saturday's action at Rupp Arena. (UK Athletics Photos by Tommy Quarles)

The Wildcats, who entered the game third in the country in scoring at 88.8 points per game, have now notched six100-point games, which is the most since the 1995-96 national championship team had nine such games.

 

But UK allowed 102 points, which is the first time since 1970 when it gave up at least 102 points and won (121-105 at LSU).

 

Seven Wildcats -- led by senior Antonio Reeves’ 22 points and freshman D.J. Wagner’s 19 points (including a career-high four 3-pointers) -- scored in double figures.  Dillingham had 15 points and tied for game honors in assists with five.

 

UK coach John Calipari had been very concerned about the game against Razorbacks (now 14-15 overall, 5-11 SEC). He praised them for outstanding play.

 

“They came in with a great game plan. I knew Muss (Coach Eric Musselman) would have them ready,” said Calipari. “I was really worried about this game. I had them stay at the hotel last night. I haven't done that for a year. We came here and stayed in the hotel and had a meal and you know what we did this morning? We shot around for a 1:30 game. I don't ever do that. Breakfast here and then let's play this game. Why? Because I knew this was going to be this way. I knew it. I knew this was going to be a really hard game. Do you know why? They got a really good coach and they got really talented players that can break you down and go get baskets. What did they do? They broke us down and went and got baskets. We just happen to score more than them today.

 

On his team and Calipari, Wagner said, “We just came in ready to play. He didn’t say that he was nervous to us, but he did tell us to be prepared and be confident. I feel like we all prepared very well for the game, and we knew it wasn’t going to be an easy game. Coming into it we knew it was going to be a competitive game against a great team, he [Calipari] told us that, but we were all just excited to come to the game.” 

 

Musselman said Kentucky is a national championship contender.

 

“Yeah, I thought our team played extremely hard," said the Arkansas boss. "The effort was phenomenal today by us and by Kentucky. Kentucky played as hard as I’ve seen a team play, and I thought our team, being here live, our team played as hard as we could play as well. We made the decision we were going to run today, and the couple of turnovers and baseline out-of-bounds defense, those are two areas I thought changed the complexion of the game and the 42 free throws attempted (by UK) were really hard to overcome. I’m not sure that I’ve been around a team that played this hard, went 27-28 from the foul line, had 10 steals, 13 assists, and come away with a loss, but you’re talking about a Kentucky team that can win a national championship and playing in their building.”

 

Both teams shot well, hitting over at least 53 percent, and UK had the rebounding advantage of 34-27.

 

Kentucky will play its last home game of the season when it meets Vanderbilt on Wednesday night.  The 9 pm ET game will be shown on SEC Network.  In early February, the Cats whipped Vandy 109-77 in Nashville in the last meeting between both schools.


Jamie H. Vaught, a longtime sports columnist in Kentucky, is the author of six books about UK basketball, including recently-published “Forever Crazy About The Cats: An Improbable Journey of a Kentucky Sportswriter Overcoming Adversity.” He is the editor and founder of KySportsStyle.com Magazine, and a professor at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College in Middlesboro. You can follow him on Twitter @KySportsStyle or reach him via email at KySportsStyle@gmail.com .

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