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March 1, 2013

Cats face road test as Hogs turn up the heat

They used to call it "40 Minutes of Hell."

That was when Nolan Richardson worked the sideline at Arkansas, when his teams' relentless full-court pressure made it like Hades for opponents and their point guards.

Those days are gone, but Arkansas' creeping ever closer under head coach and former Richardson disciple Mike Anderson, who calls his style "The Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball."

And though they've dropped the "Hell," Anderson's Razorbacks figure to bring some heat Saturday when Kentucky (20-8, 11-4 Southeastern Conference) visits Bud Walton Arena.

"They're more - I don't want to use the term helter-skelter, but there's no rhyme or reason sometimes why they're trapping or why they're switching or what they're doing," Kentucky coach John Calipari said Friday. "It's trying to speed up the game and trying to be aggressive. So you got to play with instincts more and historically our teams have been fine doing that. We'll see in this environment how we do."

The environment is key.

The Razorbacks (17-11, 8-7) hardly have given foes heck on the road. But it's a 40-Minutes-of-Hellacious job to beat the Hogs at home. Arkansas is 16-1 at Bud Walton Arena this season, 1-10 away from it.

Combine Arkansas' full-court press and home-court success with the other pressure Kentucky is feeling - to stay on the winning track for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament - and UK faces an uphill climb on Saturday.

The Cats insist, though, that only the Bud Walton racket and not the NCAA bracket is on their minds this week.

"I haven't even been worried about getting into the tournament," point guard Ryan Harrow said. "Yeah, I guess everybody else is. I haven't really thought about it. I mean, if we just keep doing what we're supposed to do, we'll be in the tournament."

That means continuing to win. And that means winning at Arkansas.

To do that, Kentucky's guards likely will have to be at their best.

The Razorbacks force 17.6 turnovers per game, more than any other SEC team. They score 20.8 points per game off their opponents' turnovers. The pressure the Hogs apply means added stress for guards Harrow, Julius Mays and Archie Goodwin.

"I think we need to play really well," Mays said. "Obviously the ball's going to be in our hands 90 percent of the game and they're going to get up in us and be pressuring us the whole game and trying to get us to turn it over. So, really, it's all in our hands."

And that's just where Calipari wants it, despite the ups and downs Kentucky's guards have experienced this this season. When Kentucky lost forward Nerlens Noel for the season, Calipari installed a new, more free-flowing offense designed to give his guards more control.

"We try to put more on their shoulders," Calipari said. "What you don't want is, you don't want any excuses, no copouts. Now, what do you say now? You just got to have those guys take responsibility."

So far, they have.

Kentucky has won three straight - all at home - since an 88-58 loss at Tennessee in its first game post-Noel.

Over that three-game winning streak, Harrow, Mays and Goodwin have averaged 45.3 points per game between them. That trio has combined for 32 assists and 18 turnovers, including a combined 27 assists and six turnovers for Goodwin and Mays.

"All our perimeter guys have been playing well," Mays said. "Really, everybody's been playing with a lot of confidence. It's making us come together."

But those three games all have come at home.

Now Kentucky hits the road to play a team that Calipari said will play "hand-to-hand combat" with its pressure defense, the sort of physical challenge that the Cats "haven't played through well," Calipari said.

Bud Walton Arena will be sold out. The game figures to be physical. In short, Kentucky faces a Hell of a challenge.

"Our team's playing better," Calipari said. "We're now going on the road in a hostile environment and this will be the next test for us. Where are we? How far have we come?"


KENTUCKY AT ARKANSAS | SATURDAY | 4 P.M. | CBS
KENTUCKY (20-8, 11-4 SEC)
Coach: John Calipari (122-22 in fourth season at Kentucky; 525-160 in 21st season overall)
Last game: Beat Mississippi State 85-55
Roster | Stats
ARKANSAS (17-11, 8-7 SEC)
Coach: Mike Anderson (35-24 in second season at Arkansas; 235-122 in 11th season overall)
Last game: Lost to LSU 65-60
Roster | Stats
Pos. Name Yr. Ht./Wt. PPG RPG
G Ryan Harrow So. 6-2/170 10.2 2.7
G Julius Mays Sr. 6-2/192 10.0 3.1
G Archie Goodwin Fr. 6-5/198 13.8 4.5
F Willie Cauley-Stein Fr. 7-0/244 8.2 5.7
F Alex Poythress Fr. 6-7/239 12.0 6.2
Pos. Name Yr. Ht./Wt. PPG RPG
G B.J. Young So. 6-3/180 15.3 3.7
G Mardracus Wade Jr. 6-2/176 6.6 1.6
G Rickey Scott Jr. 6-3/205 4.7 2.3
F Coty Clarke Jr. 6-7/225 7.3 4.9
F Marshawn Powell Jr. 6-7/240 14.9 5.3
Game/Series Information
Game Information
Site: Bud Walton Arena (19,200), Fayetteville, Ark.
TV: CBS (Brian Anderson play by play, Dan Bonner analyst)
Radio: UK IMG Sports Network (Tom Leach play-by-play, Mike Pratt analyst); Sirius/XM 91.
Internet: Audio | Video
Favorite: Arkansas by 2

Series Information
Series record: Kentucky leads 25-8
At Fayetteville: Kentucky leads 6-5
Coaches' records: Calipari 5-3 vs. Arkansas; Anderson 1-2 vs. Kentucky

Last meeting: Kentucky 86, Arkansas 63, Jan. 17, 2012, Lexington, Ky.
Anthony Davis had 27 points, 14 rebounds and seven blocked shots and the Wildcats raced to a 16-point halftime lead en route to a rout of the Razorbacks. Four other Cats scored in double figures led by Doron Lamb with 14. Terrence Jones had 13 points, nine rebounds and five blocks for UK. Mardracus Wade led four Hogs in double figures with 12 points. Arkansas scored the first points of the second half to close within 14 but never got closer.

Keys to the Game
1. Hog Sweet Home: Make no mistake: Saturday presents one of the most difficult challenges of Kentucky's season. Arkansas is just another team on the road, but at Bud Walton Arena, the Razorbacks have been virtually unbeatable. Only Syracuse has won at Arkansas this season, and the Hogs have wins at home against Oklahoma, Missouri and Florida. The Razorbacks average 82.4 points per game at home, where they are 16-1. Away from Bud Walton Arena, Arkansas averages 61.4 points per game and is 1-9.

2. Dual Threat: Arkansas' Marshawn Powell is one of the SEC's more versatile scorers. At 240 pounds, the 6-foot-7 Powell can post, but he's also a solid slasher and a good three-point shooter. Powell shoots 51 percent from the floor and 40 percent from three-point range, and his 26 three-pointers are the second-most on a team with five players who have made at least 21. Powell isn't immune to the home/road gap. He averages 17 points per game at home and 11.4 away from Bud Walton.

3. Points Guard: Kentucky has struggled this season against dribble penetration, and Arkansas will test the Wildcats' perimeter defense. The main threat is point guard B.J. Young, who averages a team-high 15.3 points per game. Young can beat a defender off the dribble, and though he's made 21 three-pointers this season, forcing him to shoot from long range is the smart play. He's shooting 21.9 percent from three-point range and 52.7 percent from inside the arc. Young's not quite as adept a passer as a slasher, but he averages a team-high 3.7 assists per game.



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