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The CoachCal.com keys to victory: Arkansas

In a Super Tuesday matchup of intense Southeastern Conference rivals, the No. 13/12 Kentucky Wildcats (12-3, 2-0 SEC) travel to Fayetteville, Ark., to take on a Razorbacks squad hungry for their first SEC win of the year.

Introducing the Arkansas Razorbacks

The basics

What: No. 13/12 Kentucky (12-3, 2-0 SEC) vs. Arkansas (11-4, 0-2 SEC)
When: Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET
Where: Bud Walton Arena (19,200) in Fayetteville, Ark.
Game notes: UK | Arkansas
Preview: Cal hoping Cats follow Willis’ lead and put in extra work
SEC teleconference: Arkansas hopes to speed up, disrupt UK
Video: Johnson, Willis preview Arkansas
Video: Cal’s pre-Arkansas presser

The Coach — In his third season at the helm of the Arkansas basketball program, head coach Mike Anderson has brought the excitement back to Bud Walton Arena, making the venue once again one of the toughest places to play in the nation. Anderson’s “Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball,” an off-shoot of former Razorbacks’ head man Nolan Richardson’s “40 Minutes of Hell,” is wrought with pressing, aggressive, hotly paced basketball.

After successful head coaching stints at UAB, where Anderson’s Blazers upset No. 1 seed Kentucky in the second round of the 2004 NCAA Tournament, the long-time Richardson assistant landed at Missouri where he led the Tigers to three consecutive NCAA tourney bids in his five years in Columbia. Anderson’s two-plus year record at Arkansas stands at 48-31 (.608 winning percentage).

The Players — Michael Qualls, a 6-foot-6 sophomore guard, leads a balanced Razorbacks squad in scoring at 12.7 points per game. Qualls also pulls down 5.0 rebounds per contest and dishes out 2.1 assists. A solid outside shooter, Qualls is making 37.3 percent of his 3-point attempts on the season. Just behind Qualls in the scoring column is 6-10 freshman forward Bobby Portis, who posts 12.5 points and a team-high 6.3 rebounds per contest. The 2013 Gatorade Player of the Year in Arkansas also swats 1.2 shots per game and is outstanding around the rim, connecting on 54.4 percent of his shots. In addition to Qualls, Arkansas boasts two more effective outside shooters. The first is 6-5 junior guard Rashad Madden, who is true on 50.0 percent of his shots from beyond the arc while averaging 11.2 points per game, followed by 5-10 senior guard Kikko Haydar, who nails 46.9 percent of his shots from distance.

The final of four double-digit Razorbacks’ scorers is 6-6 junior forward Alandise Harris, who posts 10.4 points and 4.5 rebounds per contest in only 20.5 minutes of action per game. In only 10.9 minutes per contest, 6-10 freshman Moses Kingsley records 1.7 blocks and 5.2 points per contest. Kingsley was rated a top-50 recruit in his senior season and was considered the top prospect in the state of Mississippi. Coty Clarke, a 6-7 senior forward, accounts for 8.7 points per game on 50.0 percent percent shootin, in addition to 2.2 assists per game.

TV/Radio coverage

TV: ESPN
Radio: UK IMG
Online audio: All-access
Live stream: WatchESPN
Live stats: 
Gametracker
Live blog: CoachCal.com

The Schedule — Arkansas, with an 11-4 record on the season, owns several solid victories on the year, including wins over Larry Brown’s SMU squad, 89-78, Minnesota, 87-73, and Clemson, 74-68. Surprisingly winless in two SEC games this season, Arkansas dropped league games to Texas A&M, 69-53, and in a net ripper, the Razorbacks fell to No. 10/11 ranked Florida in Fayetteville, 84-82. Arkansas also took a tough 85-77 loss to California, and a 91-81 setback to No. 11 Gonzaga in the EA Sports Maui Invitational.

Three Keys

Value possession — Arkansas, via its ever-present trapping press, forces 18.4 turnovers per game and is fourth in the country with a plus-6.3 turnover margin. Though the Wildcats have been taking better care of the basketball of late — UK is averaging 10.0 turnovers per game in the last four contests after averaging 13.5 in its first 11 games — allowing the Razorbacks to score easy buckets off their press would be recipe for a Wildcat road loss. UK’s passes must be sure, and ideally, the Arkansas press will be broken by utilizing the pass and the middle of the floor, instead of the sidelines. Additionally, Kentucky’s young players must remember to give help when attacking the zone trap, running to space to bail out teammates who may be trapped or facing an oncoming trap. Additionally, communication will help allay the Arkansas press, but in loud Bud Walton Arena, the Cats must be fully bought-in to the importance of talking to one another, especially when facing pressure.

Arkansas File

Record: 11-4
Head coach: Mike Anderson (48-31 at Arkansas)
Ranking: N/A
Nickname: Razorbacks
Player to watch: Bobby Portis (12.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg)
Series history: UK leads 25-9
Last meeting: Arkansas won 73-60 on March 2

Transition defense – Arkansas has one of the nation’s best shooting percentages (.476) because of its ability to shoot high-percentage shots on the fast break. The Razorbacks will look to get the ball out in transition off Wildcat misses and even after UK made field goals. Arkansas’ goal will be to push, push, push the basketball up the floor. UK, in an area it’s struggled with at times this season, must get back and protect the rim, cutting off the Arkansas fast break passing lanes. If allowed, Arkansas will take the ball to the rim off the break, so UK must step up in the driving lane and cut off any would be penetrating Razorbacks, forcing a reset or pass out of the lane.

Take advantage of 3-point opportunities — One of the weaknesses of this Arkansas club is its 3-point defense. On the season, the Razorbacks are allowing the opposition to make 35.5 percent from beyond the arc. In Florida’s win over Arkansas, the Gators connected on 9-of-25 shots from distance (36.0 percent). Texas A&M made 7-of-17 long-range shots against Arkansas, Gonzaga was good on 12-of-20 attempts and California nailed 8-of-20 shots from long distance.

Kentucky, over the last five games, has made only 24-of-99 trey attempts, good for an unsightly 24.2 percent. Couple that stat with the fact that the Cats have taken 42 3-point shots over the last two games (making 10), and long-range shooting is an area in need of improvement. The Wildcats’ incredibly strong offensive rebounding partially mitigates their struggles from distance, but in order to fully capitalize on UK’s front-court strength, the Cats must loosen the zones and sagging man-to-man defenses designed to stop Julius Randle, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, and Dakari Johnson.

Key Matchup

UK’s big guards vs. Arkansas’ big guards — As the tallest team in the country, UK can almost always count on having a size advantage all over the court. That isn’t true when playing the Razorbacks, though. Arkansas boasts a starting back court measuring 6-6 (Qualls) and 6-5 (Madden), with a front court manned by twin 6-10 players Portis and Kingsley. While UK’s big men have faced teams possessing similar length, this is the first time Andrew and Aaron Harrison, along with James Young, have faced a set of guards able to look them straight in the eye.

Although Qualls and Madden are solid outside shooters, they are also quick and athletic, meaning the big Razorback guards will look to penetrate the lane and get to the tin, making UK’s interior help against that penetration vitally important. The quickness and length the Arkansas guards possess contributes mightily to the Razorbacks’ outstanding 8.2 steals per game average. How Kentucky handles that length and athleticism, on both ends of the floor, will be key in determining who goes home happy tonight.

He said what?

At Monday’s UK basketball press opportunity, Coach Cal had this to say about Arkansas:

On Arkansas wanting to play fast …
“They’re playing that way, they’re playing that way. Offensively, motion into driving and attacking, a few pick-and-rolls, get it up quick, get a shot off quick, go rebound it. Defensively, denying, switching, being active, trapping. They’re doing a good job of that. They shoot the ball well. They shoot it from the 3, they shoot the 2s well and they shoot free throws at 70 percent, so it’s not a game you can go down there and throw a bunch of clunkers up because you’re going to have a problem. I think that what Florida did is they made some shots but they also got a lot of drop-offs, they got a lot off the penetrations and kick-outs.”

On what UK’s mindset should be when playing Arkansas …
“I’ve played against Arkansas a bunch, whether I was at Memphis or here, and it mostly affects who you have on your team. You have to have tough, strong-willed players. Those guys will give themselves a chance to win. If you’re timid in anyway they’ll over run you, but they’re not the only team that plays that way. There are a lot of teams that come after you. They’re flying, being aggressive, playing, you’ll have opportunities and they’ll make some crazy shots. You just have to keep playing.”

On the game being a “whiteout” …
“Arkansas doesn’t know this yet, but the T-shirt company, I own, that they bought. I went out and bought a T-shirt company because of everybody’s blue-, blackouts, whiteouts, yellow-outs.  I said, ‘Shew.’ I’m just kidding.”

Trends

  • In the last two games, James Young has handed out 13 assists versus six turnovers (2.2 assist/turnover ratio). Young has made only 9-of-33 shots from long range over the last five contests.
  • Against Vanderbilt last time out, Andrew Harrison posted his first zero-turnover game of the year, and has connected on 3-of-6 treys over the last two games.
  • Willie Cauley-Stein has blocked only eight shots over the last four games (2.0 per game) but has made 12-of-15 shots from the floor over the last two games.
  • Julius Randle is averaging 7.5 points per game over the last two games, but 12.5 rebounds in those two tilts (6.0 offensive boards).
  • Over the last four games, Alex Poythress is averaging 8.8 points per game while shooting 65.2 percent from the floor. In the first 11 games of the year, Poythress put up 4.5 points per contest.
  • Aaron Harrison is 2 of 16 from long-distance over the last two games (12.5 percent).
  • In his last 17 minutes of play, covering two games, Dakari Johnson put up 12 points, grabbed two rebounds and made 5-of-6 shots.

Team stats

UK Arkansas
Scoring offense 80.5 (31) 84.5 (14)
Scoring defense 65.8 (66) 67.9 (108)
FG percentage 47.5 (48) 47.6 (45)
FG percentage defense 39.0 (29) 39.5 (38)
3-point percentage 29.8 (318) 36.4 (91)
3-point percentage defense 30.7 (58) 35.5 (248)
FT percentage 66.0 (276) 70.2 (143)
Rebound margin +12.7 (3) +1.3 (174)
Steals per game 4.3 (333) 8.2 (31)
Blocks per game 6.8 (6) 5.9 (25)
Assists per game 12.6 (207) 16.7 (15)
Turnover margin -1.3 (260) +6.3 (4)
kenpom.com adjusted offensive efficiency rank 8 57
Kenpom.com adjusted defensive efficiency rank 40 64

*national rankings in parentheses

Individual leaders

UK Arkansas
Points per game Julius Randle (16.7) Michael Qualls (12.7)
Rebounds per game Julius Randle (10.9) Bobby Portin (6.3)
Field-goal percentage Willie Cauley-Stein (65.9) Moses Kingsley (59.5)
3-point percentage Andrew Harrison (35.3) Rashad Madden (50.0)
Free-throw percentage Aaron Harrison (76.4) Coty Clarke (81.6)
Assists per game Andrew Harrison (3.3) Coty Clarke (2.2)
Blocks per game Willie Cauley-Stein (3.7) Moses Kingsley (1.7)
Steals per game Willie Cauley-Stein, Aaron Harrison (1.1) Coty Clarke (1.3)

The Wrap-up

Tip-off is scheduled for 9 p.m. ET with television coverage by ESPN. Stay tuned to CoachCal.com for complete pre-, in-, and postgame coverage as the Cats take on Arkansas in what will surely be an entertaining contest.