Of all the impressive wins top-ranked Kentucky has collected in marquee games this season, Saturday’s 84-67 dismantling of No. 18 Arkansas speaks a little louder than most.
The undefeated Wildcats clinched the Southeastern Conference regular-season title, and the Razorbacks rarely had a chance after the early minutes, a common theme in many of Kentucky’s wins over ranked opponents.
Andrew Harrison and Trey Lyles each scored 18 points as the Wildcats (29-0, 16-0 in the SEC) dominated at both ends in the long-awaited matchup of the conference’s top two teams.
This victory was noteworthy beyond earning the program’s 46th league title. Kentucky ended a three-game losing streak against the Razorbacks (23-6, 12-4) by beating them at their own high-speed, physical game, leading by as many as 31 points with eight minutes left.
Asked why this game meant a little more, Lyles said: “Just because the last couple games we lost to them. It was a challenge for us.
“They came out and played aggressively and it was a game we needed. . . . We just wanted to come out and turn it around this year.”
Kentucky did so with its league-leading defense, which held the SEC’s top-scoring team to 38% shooting and 12 points below its average (79.5).
The Wildcats, meanwhile, shot 48% from the field and outrebounded the Razorbacks, 38-32, to extend the best start in school history.
Tyler Ulis added 14 points and Devin Booker scored 10 for Kentucky, which has won its last five games by an average margin of 20.4 points. The Wildcats also completed a season sweep of five ranked opponents by an average of nearly 17 points per game — a number that jumps to 20.3 when figuring in their 39-point blowout of UCLA.
Michael Qualls’ 17 points led four Arkansas players in double figures, but the Razorbacks couldn’t keep up.
“I’ll give it to them,” Qualls said. “They were taking it to the boards and taking shots. I don’t think we made a three-point basket in the first half and that’s big because we can shoot the ball really well.”
Bobby Portis had 15 points, Alandise Harris 12 and Rashad Madden 11 for Arkansas, none of which mattered much against a Kentucky squad that once again played its best against a ranked opponent.
“I think they were looking forward to this game,” Wildcats Coach John Calipari said. “The thing for these kids, they’re preparing to play well but know if I’m not at my very best, I’m good, I’ll play other people. But I’m not going to hurt myself. That’s what is good about this.”