LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The University of Arkansas men’s basketball team met its match in an 88-79 loss to No. 23 Kentucky Saturday afternoon at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Freshman guard Nick Smith led the Razorbacks with 25 points, three rebounds and a game-high six assists, while junior guard Ricky Council delivered 16 points and four rebounds. Freshman guard Anthony Black was also productive for Arkansas with 14 points, a team-high eight rebounds and four assists.
Emotions were high for the regular-season finale as the Razorbacks (9-12, 8-10 SEC) defeated the Wildcats 88-73 on Feb. 7 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., and the sellout crowd of 19,200 people at Bud Walton Arena made sure it wasn’t quiet.
Things started to get heated four minutes into the game when Arkansas senior center Makhi Mitchell got tangled up with Kentucky senior forward Oscar Tshiebwe. After an official review, Tshiebwe and Razorbacks freshman guard Anthony Black received dead ball technical fouls.
That incident lit a fire for Tshiebwe and the Wildcats’ offense.
The reigning National Player of the Year helped Kentucky (21-10, 12-6) to its first lead with a dunk, then scored the Wildcats’ next six points to give them a 14-10 advantage with 13:47 to play in the first half.
Tshiebwe recorded his 18th double-double of the season with 12 points and a game-high 13 rebounds before fouling out with 4:53 left in the game.
Arkansas only led for 1:15 but started to find a rhythm in the final minutes of the opening half.
Council threw down two consecutive dunks, then made a free throw line jumper to cut Kentucky’s lead to 30-26.
The Razorbacks kept attacking and got within two points after a technical foul on Tshiebwe turned into a four-point swing for Arkansas.
Senior forward Kamoni Johnson made both technical free throws, and Smith nailed a jumper on the ensuing possession to bring Kentucky’s lead to 38-36 with 48 seconds remaining in the first half.
Sophomore guard Daimion Collins responded with a layup to give Kentucky a 40-36 lead at the half. The Wildcats entered the game 15-0 when leading at the half this season.
Arkansas shot 34.7% from the floor and 7-of-22 from three in the loss. They turned the ball over only six times but were outrebounded by Kentucky 41 to 35.
The Razorbacks finished 22-of-34 from the free throw line.
Coming out of the locker room, Davis made a three-pointer but found himself in some hot water, which led to his ejection after an altercation with senior guard Reeves sparked a double technical foul.
The Kentucky senior responded to the situation by scoring the next nine points for the Wildcats to build their largest lead of the game at 51-40 with 16:22 left to play.
Reeves finished with a career-high 37 points on 12-of-17 shooting to go along with one rebound and two assists. Senior forward Jacob Toppin added 21 points for a Kentucky offense that shot 53.7% from the floor and 28.6% from three.
Despite losing their best three-pointer shooter, the Razorbacks stayed within striking distance down the stretch.
Walsh, who finished with 10 points, four rebounds and two assists, ended a six-minute scoring drought for Arkansas and sparked a 7-0 run with a dunk. Shortly after, he nailed a three-pointer and Smith followed with a basket to make Kentucky’s lead 55-50 with 10:38 left on the clock.
However, Toppin silenced the crowd at Bud Walton with a three-pointer to give the Wildcats a 66-57 lead with 6:07 to play, and the Razorbacks never got within seven points again.
Arkansas, who has lost its last three games, will be the No. 10 seed in the SEC Tournament at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. The Razorbacks will face seventh-seeded Auburn in the second round on March 9 at 6 p.m. Central on the SEC Network.