94 feet: An in-depth look at the UK-Arkansas series

Mike Anderson brings his Arkansas Razorbacks (13-4, 2-1) to Rupp Arena to take on the No. 2 Kentucky Wildcats (17-1, 3-0) in what should be an exciting, fast-paced battle.

The Razorback head coach should be no stranger to Kentucky fans, as Anderson sat on the bench beside former Arkansas head man Nolan Richardson for 17 seasons before becoming the head coach at UAB in 2002. And, of course, Anderson’s Blazers upset top-seeded UK 76-75 in the second round of the 2004 NCAA Tournament, abruptly ending a very promising Big Blue season (the Cats exacted a measure of revenge on Anderson and his Blazers by besting UAB in the first round on the 2006 NCAA Tournament).

Tuesday, though, Arkansas comes into the contest perhaps overachieving (based on preseason talk), having beaten a very good Mississippi State squad by 10 points and an improving LSU team by nine. Nothing would validate the Razorback’s improvement like a road win over Kentucky. The Cats, coming off a hard-fought 65-62 win over the Tennessee Vols, will be looking to keep their spotless SEC record intact, and boost the nation’s longest home court winning streak to 46 games.

Series history

Prior to Arkansas joining the SEC for the 1991-92 season, UK and the Hogs hooked up on the hardwood four times, with the Cats coming out on top in each game. The most memorable of those games for the Kentucky faithful was UK’s 64-59 Final Four victory in 1978. The Wildcats, led by Jack “Goose” Givens and his 23 points, beat an Arkansas team coached by future UK head man Eddie Sutton.

Since the Razorbacks became part of the Southeastern Conference, the Cats hold a 20-8 series advantage. Although Arkansas beat UK 77-76 in overtime last season down in Fayetteville, Ark., the Wildcats won the 10 previous matchups, dating back to March of 2001. At Rupp Arena, UK holds an 8-2 advantage, having won eight in row after losing the first two home contests.

Series superlatives

  • It should come as no surprise that Jodie Meeks, in February of 2009, set the UK single-game scoring record against Arkansas with 45 points.
  • Jared Prickett, in February of 1994, grabbed 20 rebounds, giving him the Wildcat benchmark for most boards against the Hogs.
  • In the assist category Cliff Hawkins reigns supreme, as the Hawk dished out 11 dimes against the Razorbacks in February of 2004.
  • Both Wayne Turner in January of 1997 and Rajon Rondo in January of 2006, recorded five steals versus Arkansas, setting the UK standard for pilfers against the Hogs.
  • With his seven big blocked shots in March of 1994, Andre Riddick holds the UK record for swats against Arkansas.
  • The aforementioned high-scoring Meeks, holds both the made field goals and made 3-point field goal records against the Razorbacks, connecting on 17 overall shots along with seven treys (in the same game) in February of 2009.

The Arkansas Razorbacks, since its first SEC showdown with the Cats in 1992, have provided fans with great competition, great games and one of the most improbable victories in Kentucky’s long history. It was 1995. It was in Atlanta. It was the SEC Tournament championship game. It was No. 3 Kentucky versus No. 5 – and defending national champions – Arkansas Razorbacks.

The Hogs had beat the Cats by two points only six weeks earlier at Arkansas, and the two teams seemed similarly talented in that tight contest, something which would prove true in front of 30,067 breathless basketball fans in the Georgia Dome.

Arkansas began the game like the champions they were, and against UK’s 2-3 zone, intended to control Razorback big man Corliss Williamson, the Hogs knocked down 3-pointer after 3-pointer, rendering the Cats stunned and reeling after Arkansas shot its way to a 35-16 lead midway through the first half. UK, a high-scoring outfit themselves, struggled to keep up with Nolan Richardson’s “40 Minutes of Hell,” especially after committing 11 turnovers in the first 11 minutes of the half. The result, Arkansas connected on 8-of-14 3-point shots, most coming off the break, which dutifully followed a UK turnover.

Kentucky, though, began to play better as its shooters, Tony Delk, Chris Harrison, and Jeff Sheppard, began making shots. When Anthony Epps scored on an old-fashioned 3-point play, the UK deficit was cut to only six, 50-44, at halftime.

But out of the second half gate quickly came the Hogs, as they continued to make shots and hold the Cats at bay, and with just under eight minutes remaining, Arkansas found itself up 72-60 after a steal and dunk by Williamson.

Delk, then went to work, making a difficult reverse layup to cut the score to 74-67. Moments later, Delk hit Walter McCarty with a nice feed for a slam, bringing UK to within three at 74-71. The two teams traded free throws and made baskets down stretch, but UK forced an Arkansas shot clock violation in the final minute, after which UK center Mark Pope drew a foul and made both free throws, tying the game at 80 with just over six seconds to go.

The Arkansas inbounds pass was intercepted by Antoine Walker, who immediately called a timeout. There were 5.5 seconds on the clock. The UK inbounds play had the ball going to Rodrick Rhodes, who proceeded to go straight to the rim, drawing a foul on UA’s Clint McDaniel. Rhodes needed only make one free throw, but he missed both, sending the game to overtime.

Like a freight train headed in a downhill direction, the Razorbacks ran over the Cats to start the extra period, scoring the first seven points, bringing the score to 87-80. Then, something magical happened. With 1:33 left in the game and UK down 91-82, Walker drove the lane, scored and was fouled by Williamson. It was the big man’s fifth foul. So Arkansas’ leading scorer at 22 points, and primary paint defender, was relegated to the bench. Walker made his free throw, making the score 91-85.

Arkansas then turned the ball over on the inbounds pass (perhaps UK’s pressure was finally getting to the Hogs), resulting in a Pope tip-in. With 1:15 left in the game, the Cats had cut the Razorback advantage to 91-87.

At this point the Georgia Dome became a den of thunderous cheering and yelling, both teams surely struggling to communicate and focus, but down the floor the Razorbacks came, playing keep away and running clock until the Cats fouled McDaniel. McDaniel, who made 76.5 percent of his free throws that season, missed both of his attempts, but UK could not capitalize, leading to yet another Wildcat foul on McDaniel. This time, the 6-foot-4 guard nailed both free throws, sending UA’s lead back to six at 93-87 with only 44 seconds remaining.

Delk sunk a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession, cutting the Razorback cushion to 93-90. UK then fouled Arkansas guard Cory Beck, but Beck missed both charity tries. Walker scored on the other end, and suddenly the Razorback lead was razor thin at 93-92 with 25 seconds left.

On the UA inbounds play, UK trapped Scotty Thurman and Anthony Epps picked off his errant pass. Epps got off a shot and missed, but he was fouled while attempting a second shot with19.3 seconds.

Epps, as cool as a Marion County man can be, drilled both free throws, giving the Cats the lead, 94-93. Thurman took the well-guarded last shot from about 25 feet, but the ball bounced harmlessly off the front of the rim. Delk got the rebound, was fouled and made a free throw to give the Cats a thrilling 95-93 victory.

“It didn’t look good,” Pope said at the time. “Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, we wouldn’t win this game. … It doesn’t get any better than this.”

Kentucky in the SEC

The Cats currently lead the SEC in nine categories: scoring margin (plus-20.4), free-throw percentage (71.6), field-goal percentage (48.3), field-goal percentage defense (36.5), rebounds per game (40.7), rebound margin (plus-7.7), defensive rebounds per game (27.4), offensive rebound percentage (39.7) and blocks per game (9.1).

UK’s performance in the remaining categories isn’t so bad either: The Cats are No. 2 in scoring offense (79.3), scoring defense (58.9) and 3-point percentage defense (30.2), No. 3 in offensive rebounds per game (13.3), and No. 4 in 3-point field goal percentage (36.7).

Several Wildcats find themselves listed among the SEC’s statistical best. Both Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist are listed a team-high six times among the SEC’s top 15 (in any given category).

It breaks down like this: Davis leads the SEC in field-goal percentage (64.3), blocks per game (4.6) and defensive rebounds per game (7.2). UK’s center is second in rebounds per game (10.2), sixth in offensive rebounds per game (2.9) and surprisingly for such a big man, eighth in steals per game (1.6).

Kidd-Gilchrist is sixth in rebounds per game (7.7), seventh in offensive rebounds per game (2.9), ninth in defensive rebounds per game (4.8), 12th in free-throw percentage (74.2), 13th in blocks per game (1.2) and 13th in points per game (13.4).

Terrence Jones is sixth in blocks per game (1.8), 14th in defensive rebounds per game (4.0) and 15th in rebounds per game (6.1). Doron Lamb is sixth in free throw-percentage (82.1) and 12th in points per game (14.0). Marquis Teague is fifth in assists per game (4.2) and 10th in assist/turnover ratio (1.3-1).

Tipoff is scheduled for 9 p.m. ET, with television part of ESPN’s Super Tuesday coverage. Stay tuned to CoachCal.com as Eric Lindsey and assistant coach John Robic will be along with a comprehensive scouting report on Arkansas.