GAME NOTES: The 17th-ranked Kentucky Wildcats continue to jockey for position within the SEC standings, as they take on the Arkansas Razorbacks in a conference showdown at Rupp Arena on Thursday night.
John Calipari's Wildcats have won two straight games and six of their last seven, including Saturday's thrilling 77-76 overtime win over LSU. The victory over the Tigers moved Kentucky to 11-3 in the SEC and although now top-ranked Florida has already claimed a share of the league title, Kentucky is the only SEC team left with at least a mathematical shot at a piece of the title.
The Razorbacks have won three straight games and five of their last six to overcome a dreadful start to league play and pull even at 7-7 in the SEC. Arkansas is coming off a 73-69 road win at Mississippi State, just the second true road win of the season for the Hogs.
Arkansas has lost nine straight games at Rupp Arena and hasn't beaten Kentucky in Lexington since the 1994 run to the national title. However, it is the Razorbacks seeking a regular-season sweep after earning an 87-85 overtime victory in Fayetteville back on Jan. 14.
The Razorbacks were able to score 19 points off 16 Mississippi State turnovers and got a big game from Anthlon Bell, who netted a team-high 19 points in 17 minutes of work off the bench, as Arkansas pulled even in league play with a win in Starkville. Bell was joined in double figures by Michael Qualls and Bobby Portis, who finished with 15 and 13 points, respectively.
Arkansas is the top scoring team in the SEC, averaging a hefty 80.5 ppg on a steady .446 shooting. Portis headlines a trio of double-digit scoring averages on the roster with 13.1 ppg. He is also tops on the team in rebounding with 6.6 caroms per outing. Rashad Manning is a close second in the scoring column at 12.7 ppg, with Qualls rounding out the trio with 11.9 ppg.
Kentucky may be a young squad once again, but that youth has played like a veteran bunch for the most part, averaging 78.2 ppg on .468 shooting. The team has also benefited from strong play on the boards, boasting of a +9.9 rebounding margin. Freshman forward Julius Randle is one of the best frontcourt players in the country, averaging a double-double with 15.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. Fellow freshmen James Young (14.6 ppg), Aaron Harrison (13.8 ppg) and Andrew Harrison (11.2 ppg) have made an immediate impact as well. Sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein (7.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg) is a premier shot blocker, averaging just over three blocks per game.
Randle struggled with just eight points last time out, but his last two, with 3.9 seconds left in overtime proved to be the difference, as Kentucky earned a thrilling win over LSU. Aaron Harrison led the team with 21 points in the win. Young finished with 20 points, while Randle grabbed a game-high 15 rebounds.
Kentucky may be second-fiddle in the SEC this season, but it is still important to finish up strong heading into the postseason. Expect the Wildcats to get some revenge here on a solid Arkansas squad.
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