Rushed Reactions: #1 Kentucky 78, #21 Arkansas 63

Posted by David Changas on March 15th, 2015


SEC Microsite writer David Changas is covering the SEC Tournament this week in Nashville and filed this report following Sunday’s Championship Game.

Three Key Takeaways.

Willie Cauley-Stein and Aaron Harrison celebrate the SEC Championship.

Willie Cauley-Stein and Aaron Harrison celebrate the SEC Championship.

  1. If Kentucky Plays Like This… We have all known for a while that if Kentucky is going to lose a game this season, it’s going to take an extraordinary effort from its opponent and the Wildcats will have to deliver a subpar effort. Kentucky jumped out to an early 8-0 lead against Arkansas before the Hawgs clawed back to tie it at 19; from that point, the Wildcats outscored the Razorbacks by a 22-6 margin over the last 10 minutes of the first half to effectively put the game out of reach. While Arkansas made a valiant effort to get back into the game in the second half by cutting the lead to nine points a couple of times, the Wildcats pulled away again thanks to a 15-5 run over a five-minute stretch that started midway through the half. Kentucky was clearly ready to play and it is unlikely any other team in college basketball will beat the Wildcats if it plays like they did on Sunday six more times.
  2. Arkansas’ Perimeter Shooting Wasn’t Good Enough. For the Razorbacks to have had any chance of pulling off a monumental upset, they needed to be great from the perimeter. They weren’t, making only 4-of-13 shots from three-point range. They did not get a lot of great looks (thanks to the Wildcats’ defense), but they also did not capitalize when those opportunities arrived. That allowed Kentucky to go on its big run to close out the first half. Beating the Wildcats is difficult enough for a team that is within striking distance at the half. Doing so when the deficit is 16 points? Forget it. Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, the team performed on par with their usual production from the outside, but that just was not going to cut it in this game. It also did not help that the Wildcats went 7-of-12 on their own from beyond the arc. After the game, head coach Mike Anderson emphasized that no team will beat Kentucky if it does not make open shots. While that may seem rather simplistic, it could not be more true.
  3. 34-0 is Pretty Darn Good. So much focus has been placed on whether anyone can actually beat Kentucky that we have often lost sight of the fact that the Wildcats practically waltzed through their unblemished schedule. Sure, there were the close calls against Ole Miss, Texas A&M, LSU and Georgia, but given that no high-major team has entered the NCAA Tournament without a loss in some 39 years, it is simply incredible that Kentucky dominated its schedule like it did. As John Calipari pointed out after Saturday’s win over Auburn, the Wildcats’ depth is what allowed this team to go undefeated, especially when compared to some of his shorter-benched Kentucky teams. But even with such high-quality depth and a team that has been exceptionally unselfish, winning every game on the schedule to get to 34-0 is a feat that should be appreciated.

Player of the Game. Willie Cauley-Stein was once again a beast for the Wildcats, just as he had been in all three games in Nashville this weekend. The SEC Tournament MVP went for 15 points and 10 rebounds, leading the team in both categories, but his statistics do not tell the whole story. The 7’1″ Cauley-Stein showed his defensive versatility on Saturday when he guarded 6’4″ Auburn guard KT Harrell and was just as effective on the inside Sunday against Bobby Portis. He is a transformative defensive player, the kind of asset that makes him the most important guy on the roster. The Wildcats would not be 34-0 without him.


  • “I thought their depth and their size were hard to overcome. You’ve got to make shots against a team with that kind of size and that kind of depth.” Mike Anderson, on why Kentucky was able to control the game.
  • “A lot of it is just staying the course and continuing what we have been doing all year.” Willie Cauley-Stein, on how Kentucky deals with the pressure of going undefeated.
  • “I don’t understand it. You’ve gotta ask them. It’s nothing I’m doing. These players have allowed this to happen.” John Calipari, on why his players do not seem to have felt the pressure of going undefeated.

Sights and Sounds. It sounds like a broken record, but Sunday’s crowd at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville was nearly all blue. When Arkansas joined the league during its 40 Minutes of Hell heyday in 1992, it would often bring nearly as many fans to the SEC Tournament as Kentucky. But nineteen years after the program’s last Sweet Sixteen run, that has changed in a big, big way. There were only a smattering of Razorbacks’ fans in attendance on this day, and the game might as well have taken place in Rupp Arena.

What’s Next?

  • Kentucky. The Wildcats have secured the overall #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and will take the short trip to Louisville on Thursday to play its first game. From there, assuming the Wildcats win twice, they will go to Cleveland. There is little doubt that they will continue to play de facto home games both at the Yum! Center and at Quicken Loans Arena, and, despite what undoubtedly will be a strong (and unlucky) #2 seed in its region, the odds of a return trip to the Final Four are as high as we can remember for any team in recent history.
  • Arkansas. The Razorbacks are the only SEC team other than Kentucky that can be considered a lock to make the Big Dance, and they should go in as a #5 seed (or thereabouts). NCAA Tournament appearances have been rare for this program in recent years — this will be Anderson’s first trip in his four years as head coach — but that does not mean Arkansas cannot make a run to the Sweet Sixteen. With their talent and athleticism, that should be the expectation for this team.
David Changas (166 Posts)

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