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Sometimes, games just aren’t built to be fair. This was one of them.
Arkansas entered the game with (1) the misguided idea of trying to run with UK despite a severe athleticism deficit and (2) a lineup too small to hang with UK on the inside.
UK shot down the first point from the start. If the cliché for these types of basketball games is that it’s a “track meet,” then the Cats were Usain Bolt, minus being Jamaican.
“If they try to run with us, it plays into our hands,” Anthony Davis said. “We play above the rim. It gives us an advantage.”
UK ran all over Arkansas, shooting 57.1 percent. At the helm of the pressure-breaking attack was G Marquis Teague, who had his best game of the season. He scored seven points, but more importantly — way more importantly — Teague had a career-high nine assists against three turnovers. The pace and style of the game were perfectly suited to his abilities.
“Unbelievable floor game,” head coach John Calipari said. “The best he’s played all year. Nothing was forced. Didn’t make any crazy plays.”
Unfortunately for UK, not every team will try to adopt Arkansas’ “run with them” approach. In fact, every team will adopt the exact opposite approach. That might have been the first and last time we saw any team try to run with UK.
Calipari agreed with that statement after the game. After taking a brief pause, looking like he was letting himself savor the alternative possibility — that each and every game could be a free-flowing one — Calipari said he was fine with teams forcing UK into a “grind-it-out” game.
“Obviously I would love to play fast the whole game,” Calipari said, “but you’ve got to be able to play in the half court.”
Granted, this game was probably not going to be close. UK has yet to lose at Rupp Arena with Calipari as head coach, and Arkansas had lost handily in all four of its non-home games (while being 13-0 at home). It would have been quite the upset had the Razorbacks beat, or even challenged, UK.
As it happened, they didn’t.
As for the second point on playing with too small a lineup, UK played above the rim and above the Arkansas players. The Cats finished with a 38-26 rebounding advantage and blocked 13 shots. Most of that was led by Davis and his monster performance — but I already wrote an entire column about him, so let’s focus on Terrence Jones instead.
Jones played his most active game since his mid-December injury. He was bounding around the court, scoring 13 points, grabbing nine rebounds and blocking five shots.
“He’s starting to get back in his groove, being more aggressive,” Davis said. “He’s going back to the old Terrence Jones.”
With Jones and Teague clicking, UK was on another level.
“This thing takes on a different look,” Calipari said.
A different look and another level is where UK wants to be.