Cats overcome sluggish start, recover to hold off Arkansas

Published 10:26 am Monday, January 29, 2024

Kentucky started slow but finished strong in a 63-57 win at Arkansas Saturday night.

Coming off their lowest scoring output of the season in a 79-62 loss at South Carolina earlier this week, the Wildcats missed 18 of their first 20 shots against the Razorbacks. Kentucky shot just 29 percent in the opening half and trailed 26-24 at the break. The first-half tally was the lowest of the year for the Wildcats.

“We would not fight back (at South Carolina and) we let them do whatever they wanted to do to us. Today we fought back,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said.

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Kentucky (15-4, 5-2 Southeastern Conference), improved to a perfect 4-0 in bounce-back games this season. Arkansas (10-10, 1-6) suffered its sixth loss in the past seven games.

Kentucky, which never led in the first half, used a 7-0 run late in the second half to claim the lead for good and hold off the Razorbacks down the stretch. Reed Sheppard gave the Wildcats their first lead with 12:54 left on a steal capped by a slam dunk. 

Kentucky’s leading scorer, Antonio Reeves, led the Wildcats with 24 points. Reeves kept the Cats from a total collapse in the first half with 10 points and made four of the team’s nine shots from long range.

Sheppard followed Reeves with 14 points, all in the second half. Sheppard made two 3-pointers, grabbed four rebounds, dished out five assists and collected four steals.

“Reed and I, I told him, you come up to me in the game and you say ‘Stick with me, coach, just stick with me,'” Calipari said. “I was happy for Reed. He did some good stuff today. That’s who he is.”

Tre Mitchell followed Sheppard with 10 points, with all three of his field goals coming from long range. Mitchell completed a double-double with 11 rebounds.

Ugo Onyenso played a season-best 25 minutes and anchored Kentucky’s defensive interior. He finished with six points and four rebounds but also blocked three shots, securing the inside for the Cats.

Kentucky was without one of its top reserves. Rob Dillingham, the team’s second-leading scorer (13.9 points per game), sat out because of stomach issues.

Sophomore Adou Thiero, who had missed Kentucky’s previous seven games because of “general soreness,” returned to the lineup and started in place of Justin Edwards. Thiero hadn’t played since Kentucky’s 95-76 win at Louisville on Dec. 21. He scored one point but grabbed six rebounds.