Men's Basketball
Big Blue Preview: Kentucky at Arkansas

Big Blue Preview: Kentucky at Arkansas

by Tim Letcher

When No. 6 Kentucky takes the floor on Saturday night against Arkansas (6 p.m. ET, ESPN), the Cats will be trying to snap a two-game road losing streak, which includes Tuesday’s 79-62 setback at South Carolina.

Kentucky (14-4, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) will lean on veterans like Antonio Reeves and Tre Mitchell, who have the experience of playing on the road in hostile environments. Mitchell knows what to expect when the Cats enter Bud Walton Arena on Saturday.

“It’s not going to be easy anywhere we go because everybody’s home game against us is the biggest game on the schedule to the fans,” Mitchell said. “It’s newer for us to experience, with the guys we have, but now we’ve kind of got our feet wet with it and we’re getting used to it and we understand more now than ever what’s going to come when we’re the road.”

Togetherness can be much more important than people realize, according to Mitchell.

“It’s all about how connected we are,” Mitchell said. “There’s times out there when you can’t even hear yourself talk let alone your teammate or your coach calling out what he wants us to do. When someone does pick up on what coach is saying, we have to relay it to everybody. We have to understand what we need and what we want through the possessions.”

South Carolina brough a physical presence into Tuesday’s game and Mitchell expects Arkansas to do that same thing. How will the Cats combat that?

“You just have to be physical back,” Mitchell said. “You have to set the tone early and you have to keep that tone. Right now, it’s just understanding the level of physicality that we need and bringing that fight and that competitive edge in all situations, no matter what the environment is like.”

One player who can help the Cats with physicality, as well as rebounding, is set to return on Saturday. Adou Thiero has missed the last seven games dealing with general soreness. The sophomore from Pittsburgh is averaging 7.6 points and 5.6 rebounds per game this season. Mitchell knows that having Thiero back will be a boost for Kentucky.

“The energy he brings is second to none,” Mitchell said. “Some of the plays he makes are really big plays. On top of that, Adou is one of the strongest people on this team. He’s not afraid to get physical. We’re excited to get him back.”

The Cats will get another opportunity for a road win on Saturday in Fayetteville, with veterans like Reeves and Mitchell leading the charge in yet another hostile environment.

Last Time Out: South Carolina Recap

Rob Dillingham came off the bench to score 16 points, but No. 6 Kentucky fell at South Carolina 79-62 on Tuesday night.

Antonio Reeves scored 15 for the Cats, despite hitting just 6 of 18 from the floor. Tre Mitchell had 13 points and five rebounds for UK. Kentucky’s 62 points are the fewest for the Cats in a game all season.

Kentucky scored the first four points of the game, but South Carolina answered with the next seven to take a 7-4 lead.

The Gamecocks would lead 10-6 before Kentucky went on an 11-2 run, sparked by Dillingham, to lead 17-12. After South Carolina got a three from Jacobi Wright, Dillingham hit a three to give UK a 20-15 advantage with 9:04 left in the half.

A Zvonimir Ivisic free throw gave the Cats a 21-16 lead, but the Gamecocks went on an 11-2 run to take a 27-23 lead with 3:21 remaining in the first half. Kentucky would get a Dillingham jumper to get within two, 27-25, but the Cats did not score for the remainder of the half and South Carolina took a 33-25 lead into the break. The 25 points marked Kentucky’s lowest scoring half of the season. Dillingham led all scorers with 11 points in the first half.

Reeves scored the first four points of the second half to get the Cats within four, 33-29. But B.J. Mack answered with a three and South Carolina led 36-29.

The Gamecocks would lead 38-31 before the Cats got a three from Reeves to cut the deficit to four. After a South Carolina basket, Mitchell scored four in a row to get UK within two, 40-38. However, the Gamecocks scored the next five points to re-establish a seven-point lead, 45-38. That was part of a 13-2 run that gave South Carolina a 53-40 advantage with 11:32 to play.

The South Carolina run continued. After a D.J. Wagner basket, the Gamecocks went on a 9-2 run to take a 62-44 lead with 7:49 remaining. South Carolina would lead by as many as 20 in the second half.

Calipari Leading the Way in SEC Play

John Calipari leads the way among all current SEC head coaches in 2023-24 in career wins, league victories and titles. He is also ascending the all-time charts in league history:

• With 401 victories as UK’s head coach, he’s one of only four coaches to amass 400 or more wins at an SEC program. Adolph Rupp (875), Billy Donovan (467) and Dale Brown (448) are the others
• Calipari is fifth all-time in SEC regular-season wins with 189. Rupp (397) has the most. C.M. Newton is fourth with 195. Donovan (200) and Brown (238) are the others ahead of Calipari
• Calipari is 24-7 in the SEC Tournament. His 24 victories are tied with Tubby Smith for the third-most in tournament history. Only Donovan (27) and Wimp Sanderson (25) have more
• Calipari has won six SEC Tournament titles. Only Alabama (8) has more in program history than Calipari has won in total
• From his time at UMass, Calipari ranks ninth in total wins (193) and eighth in wins in Atlantic 10 regular-season play (91). In his time at Memphis, Calipari accumulated the second-most total victories (252) and the most regular-season wins (133) in Conference USA history

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