UK rolls over Arkansas 84-67, secures SEC regular season title


Kentucky forward Try Lyles dunks the ball during the first half of the University of Kentucky vs. Arkansas at Rupp Arena in Lexington , Ky., on Saturday, February 28, 2015. . Photo by Jonathan Krueger

By Kevin Erpenbeck

[email protected]

UK freshman forward Trey Lyles admitted that some of his teammates were taking Saturday’s game against No. 18 Arkansas a little personally. Much talk had been made about it being the premier SEC-matchup this season and of the Razorbacks’ chances of knocking off an undefeated No. 1 UK team.

Arkansas had won the last three times it faced UK, something that Lyles said was discussed frequently by his non-freshmen teammates in the days prior to the game. Because of that, the team talked about making a statement early on Saturday.

UK’s 84-67 dismantling of Arkansas made the message quite clear – the Cats are the best team in the conference and the nation.

“They’re one of the best team’s in the country and rightfully so,” Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said after the game. “I thought we’d give Kentucky a little bit better run for their money. It seemed like they came out real focused, and that’s a credit to (UK head coach) John Calipari and this team.”

The Cats began fast and aggressive, running out to an 11-2 lead three minutes into the game. UK was up by double digits in just 11 minutes, and closed out the half with a 16-point lead.

From then on, the highly-anticipated match had the making of several other UK games this year. At one point, UK led by as many as 31 in route to clinching the program’s 46th SEC title with the victory.

Lyles said the way the team started was the statement UK wanted to send.

“We came out with a lot of focus and energy,” Lyles said. “We got out quick. Started running, playing good defense, got on the boards early and kept them down from there.”

Lyles, along with sophomore guard Andrew Harrison, led UK with 18 points. Freshmen guards Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker also scored in double figures: Ulis had 14 points while Booker finished with 10.

After Wednesday’s win against Mississippi State, Calipari called Lyles an “X-Factor”. The 6-foot-10 forward returned to the lineup two weeks ago after missing three-straight games due to illness. Since then, Lyles has been on a tear, scoring 10-plus points in three of his five starts, including back-to-back career-highs of 18.

“He’s healthy. I’ll tell you, honestly, he’s terrific,” Calipari said. “When he was out, we didn’t have that one more rebounder that we needed. For his size, the things that he does … He’s the one that makes us go from pretty good, really good, to ‘Uh-oh, what is this I’m watching.’”

The coach had several praises for his players, calling Andrew Harrison “ridiculous” and “the best guard on the floor,” Aaron Harrison (who had nine points, seven rebounds and five steals) “terrific,” and Ulis “great.”

But most of all, Calipari is proud of what the team has been able to do throughout the season, especially in one of the most challenging conferences in the country.

“They win this league, and this league has six (NCAA) tournament teams in it,” Calipari said. “We’ve gone through the gauntlet.”

With the last major hurdle in the team’s chase for perfection supposedly cleared, and with the regular season conference champion decided, Calipari added that he’s ready for the postseason to begin. In fact, he was ready 10 days ago.

But the Cats still have two more games to go before they head down to Nashville, Tenn., for the SEC Tournament, much to Calipari’s chagrin.

“I wish the regular season was over with. I told them that,” Calipari said. “But it’s not. I’m not sure they feel the same way I do. They’re feeling a little bit different.”

Indeed, the undefeated Cats feel much different than their head coach.

“I’m enjoying it,” Andrew Harrison said. “I’m having fun getting better as a team and as an individual.”