FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – There are a number of ways to win – and lose – a basketball game, but Saturday’s Kentucky-Arkansas matchup was basketball at its simplest.
The Razorbacks forced more turnovers and grabbed more offensive rebounds, so they got more shots and therefore scored more points. It was a basic but effective formula for Arkansas to bludgeon UK 73-60 on Saturday afternoon in Fayetteville, Ark.
At the root of the simple formula: The Razorbacks fought harder than the Wildcats.
“We weren’t as tough as them, we didn’t play as hard as them and they wanted the game more than us, and that team usually wins,” John Calipari said.
That, more than anything, was what disappointed Coach Cal the most Saturday. After all the positive momentum his team has mustered in its encouraging three-game winning-streak since the Tennessee debacle, there was no fight in Kentucky’s beating at Bud Walton Arena.
“As bad as we were, we had a chance to win,” Calipari said. “But again, they never turned on the fight, and that disappointed me.”
UK (20-9, 11-5 Southeastern Conference) was Arkansas’ latest victim at Bud Walton, where the Hogs improved to 17-1 this season.
For whatever reason, Arkansas’ trapping defense and up-tempo attack has only been intensified at home, and the Cats felt the wrath of that Saturday. UK turned the ball over 19 times, leading to 30 Arkansas points.
By contrast, the Cats managed just two points off turnovers.
“We tried to make the game as chaotic as we could,” Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said. “That was the difference in the game.”
Coach Cal warned Friday that the Hogs would try to speed up the game and fluster his team with “hand-to-hand combat,” but the Cats could do nothing to stop them. Whether Arkansas pressed, trapped or played straight man-to-man defense, Kentucky couldn’t hold on to the ball.
“It’s just mano-mano, I’m taking the ball out of your hands, which happened about what, five times, seven times today?” Calipari said. “It’s my guy, their guy, and their guy just said, ‘Give me the ball.’ ”
That formula almost always spells a loss.
“I just think we weren’t tough enough with the ball, and instead of taking our time we were just trying to play hot potato with the ball,” Archie Goodwin said. “When you do that, that builds a team up and they continue to come at you more aggressively.”
Goodwin was one of the few bright spots Saturday.
Making his return to his home state, the freshman forward finished with 14 points, five rebounds and two assists in front of a number of family members and friends. Although Goodwin committed the usual “What in the world?” plays, as Calipari likes to describe them, he battled hard, even when Arkansas pumped its lead to 15 points in the second half.
“I was proud of Archie,” Coach Cal said. “To come back home in this environment and (play) how he played, he fought. He tried.”
Goodwin was the center of attention for the Arkansas faithful, which peppered him with boos, chants and off-putting posters. The Little Rock, Ark., native, who picked the Cats over his home-state Hogs, said he blocked out the crowd.
“It doesn’t feel bad at all because I’m not from Fayetteville,” Goodwin said. “I’m from Little Rock. Everybody in Little Rock loves me; that’s all that matters to me. My family loves me, I love my teammates, my teammates love me. I’m not from here. If I was from here it would be different, but I’m not, so it doesn’t bother me. I could care less how they feel about me.”
Unfortunately for UK, Goodwin was one of the few Cats who came to play Saturday.
Willie Cauley-Stein posted his third career double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, but he also committed a team-high five turnovers. Ryan Harrow had 10 points, but, as the team’s starting point guard, he couldn’t take control of the team and stop the bleeding when the Hogs turned up the pressure.
Alex Poythress hit all three of his shots and scored nine points, but he was saddled in foul trouble all game and fouled out with five minutes to play. Julius Mays, UK’s late-season hero, made just one of his eight shots.
“There’s game’s that’s going to happen,” Calipari said of Mays.
Coach Cal is OK with off games, but he isn’t accepting of inconsistent effort and energy, which plagued the Cats during two Arkansas’ runs of 11-0 and 11-2 in the second half. Both stretches featured a number of UK turnovers, a lack of Wildcat defensive rebounds and too many loose balls Kentucky could have come up with.
“The last three games we were playing with high intensity – everybody,” Cauley-Stein said. “Bench players were coming off with high (energy), and it was like they were starters, playing with that much energy. Today we had people that didn’t show up with the energy, and it proves for us to win and move on and be successful everybody has to play with energy.”
The Cats thought they had turned a corner with their recent play – Harrow said Friday they had a “breakthrough” – but they may have gotten ahead of themselves judging by Saturday’s shellacking.
“To me, it felt we had turned the corner from this right here, what we just went through,” Cauley-Stein said. “It seemed like we were past that.”
Even in March, evidently not.
“Embrace success and this is what happens,” Calipari said.
Coach Cal didn’t exactly give his team a ringing endorsement when he said he doesn’t know how his team is going to perform when it wakes up every day, but he also is confident that his players can move on and move forward by Thursday’s Georgia game.
The Cats will need to or risk putting their NCAA Tournament hopes on thin ice.
“We’ve got enough players and enough athletes to do this and really make a run – if we choose to – but you must fight,” Calipari said. You must have a will to win, and winning must be important – not just how you played. You must want to be coached and challenged and pushed from not only the staff, from within. You’ve got to accept that.”
2013 John Calipari Father & Son Camp split into two sessions