At the buzzer: No. 23 Kentucky mens basketball defeats Arkansas 88-79


Isabel McSwain

Kentucky Wildcats guard Antonio Reeves (12) attempts a 3-pointer during the Kentucky vs. Georgia mens basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2023, at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Georgia. UK lost 68-75. Photo by Isabel McSwain | Staff

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

No. 23 Kentucky mens basketball defeated Arkansas 88-79 in Fayetteville on Saturday, concluding its regular season 21-10.

The Wildcats entered the game coming off a loss in their home finale against the Vanderbilt Commodores on Wednesday.

Kentucky entered the game in Fayetteville without both starting point guards, with Sahvir Wheeler having had surgery and Cason Wallace suffering a lower leg injury against the Commodores.

Utilizing a starting lineup of CJ Fredrick, Antonio Reeves, Jacob Toppin, Chris Livingston and Oscar Tshiebwe, the Cats faced off against Arkansas’ starting five of Anthony Black, Nick Smith Jr., Davonte Davis, Makhi Mitchell and Makhel Mitchell.

Arkansas won the opening tipoff but came up empty handed on its first possession. With the home crowd choosing Toppin as the victim of its “boo one player” gimmick, the home fans were pleased to see the former Rhode Island Ram travel on Kentucky’s first possession, resulting in a turnover.

Kentucky Wildcats forward Jacob Toppin (0) walks off the court after the Kentucky vs. Vanderbilt mens basketball game on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023, at Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville, Tennessee. Kentucky won 69-53. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff (Jack Weaver)

Back at the other end of the court the Hogs drained the first 3-pointer, and also the first basket, of the night courtesy of Smith Jr.

Fredrick would score Kentucky’s first points of the night from the free-throw line, but the Cats would have to wait until Toppin would drain a deep two for their first field goal of the day.

The game would come to a screeching halt with 16:12 left on the clock when an altercation between Tshiebwe and Makhel Mitchell took place under the basket. Both players, and Black, would pick up fouls for the action, but neither would be sent off or receive a technical despite the shoving.

Both Tshiebwe and Toppin would be consistent in the first nine minutes, leading Kentucky to go 5-5 in recent attempts and take a 21-15 lead heading into an Arkansas timeout. Tshiebwe (10) and Toppin (seven) combined for 17 of Kentucky’s 21 points up to that point.

Tshiebwe and Toppin would soon be joined by Reeves, who would rack up 11 points with three minutes left to play in the half to boost Kentucky to a 34-30 lead.

Kentucky would suffer s slight blow with 1:17 left on the clock as Tshiebwe picked up his second personal foul, a flagrant foul, after the Cats made a basket.

Despite the hiccup, Kentucky entered the halftime break with a 40-36 lead, entering the game with a 15-0 record when leading at halftime in the 2022-23 season.

Reeves led all scorers in the half with 15 points while Tshiebwe followed behind with 12. Arkansas’ leading scorer, Smith Jr., recorded nine points in the half.

As a team Kentucky shot 52% from the field in the first 20 minutes while Arkansas shot 41%. UK’s four-point lead also came in spite of the fact that the Cats shot just 1-6 from beyond the arc in the first half.

Coming out in the second half of play, Reeves would drain the first basket of the period after the visiting fans had a scare when Tshiebwe appeared to go down with an injury. “Big O” was able to remain in the game however, and Arkansas promptly celebrated this by draining a 3-pointer on the other end.

The Hogs would take a hit of their own when Davis picked up two technical fouls in a row, for which he was promptly ejected from the game.

Reeves’ free throws that would come from the double technical would give Kentucky a 6-0 scoring run.

Kentucky Wildcats guard Adou Thiero (3) smiles as he walks off the court after the Kentucky vs. No. 5 Tennessee mens basketball game on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023, at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tennessee. Kentucky won 63-56. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff (Jack Weaver)

While Arkansas would end the run with a free-throw, Kentucky would find its lucky number when it went up by 10 or more points, leading by 11 with the score at 51-40 after Reeves drained a 3-pointer to extend his point total to 26 points. While the 26 points was impressive on its own, perhaps even more impressive was that Reeves had scored all 11 of Kentucky’s points in the second half with the clock at 16:20.

Kentucky would maintain a 10-point lead for much of the second half until head coach John Calipari was forced to call a timeout with just over 10 minutes to play when the Razorbacks cut the lead won to five points. Before that could happen though, Reeves would record a new season-high point total, reaching 28 points to beat his prior record of 27.

The Wildcats responded, with Adou Thiero slamming down a dunk to extend the lead back to 10 points after a 3-pointer by Toppin.

Kentucky would maintain a lead close to 10 points for a bit longer before the Cats would suffer a major blow with just under five minutes to play when Tshiebwe fouled out of the game. Tshiebwe left the game with 12 points and 13 rebounds.

Tshiebwe was the second player of the night to foul out for Kentucky after Daimion Collins did the same earlier.

While the Razorbacks tried to battle back into the game, the Cats would claim victory in the end and send the home fans home disappointed.

Kentucky was led in the game by Reeves, who dropped 37 points, followed by Toppin (21) and Tshiebwe (12). The Razorbacks, on the other hand, were led by Smith Jr., who dropped 25.

With the game in Fayetteville concluding the regular season, Kentucky looks ahead to the SEC Tournament, where it will be a No. 3 seed and will have a double-bye. Kentucky’s opponent is yet to be determined, but the Cats will return to action on Friday, March 10, from Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee.