Lexington, KY (SportsNetwork.com) - With a share of the SEC title already secured, the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats seek the outright crown on Saturday afternoon, as they play host to the 18th-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks at Rupp Arena.
John Calipari's Wildcats routed Mississippi State on Wednesday in Starkville, 74-56 to move to a perfect 28-0 on the year, with a 15-0 league ledger. UK has a three-game lead over second-place Arkansas with three games to play and has secured at least of share of its 46th SEC regular-season title.
Mike Anderson's Razorbacks are the only team mathematically still in the conference race. Arkansas has held on with wins in seven straight games, including an 81-75 shootout with Texas A&M on Tuesday. The win over the Aggies moved Arkansas to 23-5 overall and 12-3 in league play.
Kentucky holds a 25-11 lead in the all-time series with Arkansas, including a 12-3 edge in games played in Lexington. However, Arkansas comes into this game having won the last three meetings with Kentucky.
Arkansas got off to a fast start, hitting eight 3-pointers in the first half and shooting .545 from the floor over the first 20 minutes to take a 49-26 lead into intermission against Texas A&M. The Razorbacks cooled off in the second half (.458), but were able to hold off the Aggies and earn the win. Sophomore Bobby Portis continued his strong season with a team-high 22 points. Anthlon Bell added 14 points off the bench, which Alandise Harris and Rashad Madden chimed in with 11 points apiece. The Razorbacks were outrebounded 44-23 in the game, but offset that by forcing AM into 21 turnovers that were turned into 27 points.
The Razorbacks know how to bring pressure offensively. The team tops the SEC in scoring this season at 79.5 ppg and does so on a healthy .453 shooting that includes a .363 mark from long range. Portis is a rising star in the SEC, leading his team and ranking second in the conference in scoring at 17.6 ppg. The 6-11 youngster is shooting .564 from the floor overall and ranks fourth in the league in rebounding (8.5 rpg). Junior Michael Qualls is a solid scoring option as well for Arkansas, ranking ninth in the SEC at 15.1 ppg. The senior Madden is just under double figures at 9.9 ppg.
Things won't come so easy for Portis down low against the Wildcats. Kentucky is one of the premier defensive squads in the nation this season and perhaps in recent memory, ranking first nationally in field-goal percentage defense (.343) and scoring margin (+22.0) and second nationally in scoring defense (52.7 ppg) and blocked shots (197). The team has a pair of aggressive big men in the paint in the form of 6-11 freshman Karl-Anthony Towns (9.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and 7-0 junior Willie Cauley-Stein (9.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg). The two have combined for 109 blocked shots thus far. Sophomore guard Aaron Harrison (11.2 ppg) and freshman guard Devin Booker (11.1 ppg) provide perimeter support.
For the second straight game, Kentucky added efficient offensive play to its already stellar defense to overwhelm an opponent. The Wildcats shot .491 from the floor, outrebounded Mississippi State, 35-30 and blocked nine shots in the 18-point win on Wednesday. The often forgotten Trey Lyles led the way for Kentucky, earning his 11th start of the season and posting 18 points. Aaron Harrison poured in 16 points and Booker added 14, while Towns recorded a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.