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FAYETTEVILLE — This is not your father’s or grandfather’s or even older brother’s Kentucky team.
The Wildcats are 5-12 overall, including a 4-6 mark in SEC play, and almost need to win out to avoid their first losing season in 32 years. What’s more likely, though, is finishing with their worst winning percentage in nearly a century.
(Kentucky went 3-13 back in 1926-27, four years before Adolph Rupp took over the program.)
However, head coach Eric Musselman doesn’t want that record to fool you. Kentucky is still loaded with talented players, even if it hasn’t all come together and resulted in a bunch of wins this season.
“I think Kentucky’s capable of beating any team in the country,” Musselman said. “They’re long, they’re athletic, they have excellent shot-blockers. They play hard. They are really hard to score on. Their defense is really, really good. They do a great job of protecting the rim.”
Since beating LSU by 13 last month, the Wildcats have lost three straight games to arguably the SEC’s best teams.
Alabama beat them by 11 to start that streak, but the game was tied with 3:31 remaining. Against Missouri, Kentucky trailed almost the entire game and lost by five, but got within a possession several times in the second half.
Then on Saturday, the Wildcats led by 10 points with 12 minutes remaining before losing by 11.
“They’ve had a lot of close games that could have gone either way,” Musselman said. “You know they are a young team and with young teams, sometimes that happens, but they are overly, overly talented.”
Despite this game being played at Rupp Arena, it is not even a Quadrant 1 opportunity for the Razorbacks because Kentucky has fallen to No. 81 in the NET rankings – which is outside of the top-75 window for Q1 road games.
Musselman said the Razorbacks will prepare for Tuesday’s matchup the same as any other game, but he acknowledged the aura that comes with playing a team like Kentucky.
“I think when you say the word, ‘Kentucky,’ I don’t have to oversell their talent,” Musselman said. “I don’t have to oversell how hard it is to go into their building and win. Our players are smart. They understand that. They understand the level of McDonald’s All-Americans or the level of their talent.”
The Wildcats signed a trio of five-star prospects in the Class of 2020, as well as three four-star recruits. All six of those players were ranked inside the top 50 of the Rivals150.
That group was headlined by B.J. Boston, the No. 5 overall player in the class, and he is Kentucky’s second-leading scorer at 11.6 points per game.
“B.J. Boston does a great job of kind of bending screens,” Musselman said. “They run a lot of down pins to try to get their shooters (open and) he does a good job of semi-curling for his mid-range jump shots.”
He was actually first on the team in scoring until Keion Brooks Jr. dropped 23 points on Tennessee over the weekend. The sophomore and former five-star recruit has averaged 11.8 points in the eight games since his return from a lower leg injury.
Musselman said some other keys to beating Kentucky include limiting its transition baskets and defending freshman Devin Askew in pick-and-rolls.
Another guy the Razorbacks have to account for is Olivier Sarr, a 7-foot graduate transfer from Wake Forrest. Not only is he averaging 10.5 points and 5.6 rebounds, but Musselman said he’s a really good passer out of the post when you decided to double team him.
Although the Wildcats are coming off a brutal stretch against the SEC’s three ranked teams and Arkansas had extra time to prepare for the game, Musselman said he’s worried about his team being rusty after not playing for a week.
“I am concerned because we’re a little bit out of rhythm and not playing the game,” Musselman said. “This is a long stretch for a team to have a practice. We’re not a football team. We’re not accustomed to having this much time between games.”
Tip off at Kentucky is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT and the game will be televised on ESPN.
Published: 2021-02-09 14:56:12
Tags: #PREVIEW #Unusual #Kentucky #team #awaits #Hogs #Rupp