LEXINGTON, Ky. – Big night for Kentucky basketball. The Wildcats landed yet another 5-star recruit for the Class of 2017 early in the evening, and now they’ll host Arkansas at 8:30 (on a game that has been moved from SEC Network to ESPN, if you’re watching at home).
This is a huge game for Arkansas native Malik Monk, Kentucky’s freshman star and leading scorer. And perhaps an opportunity for 7-footer Isaac Humphries to continue breaking out of his sophomore slump.
Stay here and refresh often for updates from Rupp Arena.
FINAL: Kentucky 97, Arkansas 71
88-66 UK, 3:20 2H: Wow. A little late-game excitement at Rupp. A lob from Monk to Fox and then an and-1 from Briscoe has folks fired up. Not to mention all the chippy play in the second half. There might be tense faces in the handshake line tonight. On the court it’s a runaway.
76-62 UK, 7:41 2H: It seemed like a matter of time before the runaway started and now it’s in full force. Kentucky’s guard play has slashed through the Arkansas defense as the Cats’ speed has left the Hogs behind. De’Aaron Fox is up to 25 points on 9 of 13 shooting.
65-54 UK, 11:52 2H: Well, there were plenty of boos here in Rupp Arena after the apparent stepping-on of Isaiah Briscoe. There were loads of whistles in the first half and expect more for the rest of the game. The refs don’t want anything getting out of hand. Aside from the calls, Derek Willis might be having his best game of the season. The senior is a perfect 5-5 from the field and 3-3 behind the arc. His 13 points are two shy of his season high in the opener against Stephen F. Austin.
53-46 UK, 15:56 2H: Kentucky has pushed the pace out of the locker room led by De’Aaron Fox. He’s up to 17 points on 7 of 11 shooting. Fox still can’t get the outside shot to go but he’s getting to the rim at will. Arkansas is doing its best to keep the game within reach.
HALFTIME: Kentucky 41, Arkansas 38
Gross. That was not a fun half of basketball to watch. There were 24 combined fouls (a dozen for each side), slowing the action to a crawl. Malik Monk, Wenyen Gabriel and Derek Willis all spent the final several minutes of the half on the bench in foul trouble for Kentucky.
But after falling behind and looking out of sorts early, the Wildcats thrived late in the half with a four-guard lineup. Isaiah Briscoe (7 points, 5 rebounds) and De’Aaron Fox (11 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds) picked up the slack for Monk. Briscoe, after twice being blocked in the paint, finally listened to Calipari’s plea to “shoot it higher.” He missed, high off the glass, but like Calipari told him, UK rebounded it. Adebayo snatched it and threw down a monster put-back dunk. He finished with 4 points, 5 rebounds and a block in the first half.
The Cats might want to check Arkansas guard Jaylen Barford, who had 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting before the break. After an elite defensive performance Tuesday night against Texas A&M, this has been a bit of a step back for UK, which shot 50 percent on the other end.
32-24 UK, 3:50 1H: Kentucky snatched momentum with a 12-0 run, started by a Fox and-one, then extended by seven points and a sweet dish from Briscoe. Isaac Humphries gave UK a lift off the bench, too, with 4 points and 2 rebounds in his first 4 minutes on the floor. Briscoe is up to 7 points and 5 rebounds, while Fox has 9 points, 2 assists and a rebound.
23-20 Arkansas, 8:28 1H: The Hogs have reeled off an 8-0 to retake the lead. Kentucky has turned it over three times and Arkansas has made four straight shots during the run. Guard Jaylen Barford is killing the Cats; he now has 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting. Monk and Co. need to settle down a bit, and UK needs to find a way to score inside, where the Hogs have an 8-4 advantage in points in the paint.
16-15 UK, 11:35 1H: So much for Monk’s hot start. After making that first bucket, he’s bricked three straight 3-point tries. But Willis is still hot. He’s now 3 of 3 shooting, including a pair of threes, and has 8 points, 2 blocks and a rebound in 6 minutes off the bench. The rest of the Cats are 0 for 5 beyond the arc, so the Razorbacks are right in this thing.
11-9 UK, 14:50 1H: Monk swished his first jumper, then swiftly stole it from the Razorbacks and dished ahead to Fox for a slam. I asked Monk after his 47-point game against North Carolina when he knows he’s in for one of those red-hot performances, and he said usually when he makes his first shot. So buckle up. In other good news for UK, the slumping Derek Willis checked in off the bench and buried a free throw-line jumper and 3-pointer from the wing in quick succession. He needed to see those drop.
New smoke machines are cool, but if you sit under one you realize they make it snow on you. pic.twitter.com/NKitzI7eBm
— Kyle Tucker (@KyleTucker_AJC) January 8, 2017
STARTERS: The Cats are sticking with four freshmen (Fox, Monk, Gabriel and Adebayo) and sophomore Briscoe.