FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP)—Even after dictating the tempo through most of the game, the Kentucky Wildcats held their breath when Arkansas’ Eric Ferguson launched a 3-pointer as time expired.
Ferguson missed a potential game-winning shot, and No. 7 Kentucky beat the Razorbacks 68-67 Saturday.
Kelenna Azubuike scored 13 points, Rajon Rondo added 12 and Patrick Sparks added a key basket with 24.2 seconds left that helped seal the win for the Wildcats.
Ferguson countered Sparks’ field goal with a 3-pointer, pulling Arkansas within a point. The Wildcats’ Chuck Hayes missed a free-throw try, and Ferguson got the rebound but missed a 3-point try as time ran out.
The Wildcats once again pulled out a close road victory. Kentucky edged Mississippi 53-50 on Jan. 19.
Entering the second half of their conference season, the Razorbacks are showing signs they could get the wins necessary to earn an NCAA tournament bid.
Bobby Perry scored nine points in a reserve role for the Wildcats (16-2, 7-0 Southeastern Conference).
Ronnie Brewer scored 18 points, Darian Townes added 16 and Olu Famutimi finished with 13 points for Arkansas (14-6, 2-5).
Kentucky rotated free players into the game as Arkansas players became winded.
“We have a good, deep bench and that helps us control the tempo of the game and keep the pressure on people,” Kentucky coach Tubby Smith said. “We are a physical team and we wanted to trap Brewer and defend him hard. We let Brewer off the hook early in the game by fouling. Our game was to be physical with him and wear him down.”
The Razorbacks, lacking a true point guard, relied on Brewer to direct the offense. But Brewer landed awkwardly on his left ankle and went to the sideline at the 10:42 of the second half with the score tied 46-all. By the time he returned, Arkansas trailed 55-50.
Brewer clearly favored his ankle when he returned, but wasn’t a factor. He had just one field goal and four free throws in the second half.
“A play here and a play there,” Arkansas coach Stan Heath said. “It just didn’t fall today, for whatever reason.”
Famutimi hit two free throws to make it 55-52.
Kentucky put together a 9-3 run to take a 64-57 lead with 3:01 left. Rondo hit the last field goal of the run, leaping for an uncontested lay-in.
Brewer missed underneath, but Famutimi hit a 3-pointer to make it 64-61.
Perry scored to make it 66-61, but Jonathan Modica converted a three-point play, making it 66-64 with 53.2 seconds left.
“We made some clutch plays at the end of the game,” Smith said. “We had some big stops on the defensive end of the floor. Ferguson had a great look at the basket at the end, but the ball fell just off the rim.”
Heath said Brewer still has some work to do on defense, but credited his effort.
“Ronnie (Brewer) did well in spots. Because of his ankle injury he wasn’t as aggressive when he came back. He still put us in the position we were in too get the win,” Heath said.
Chuck Hayes, the Wildcats’ leading rebounder played only five minutes in the first period, wearing a mask to protect a broken nose sustained the previous Tuesday against Tennessee. He had one rebound and two points in the period and finished with four points and two rebounds in 20 minutes.
Michael Jones went down 50 seconds into the game after scoring the Razorbacks’ second basket. He didn’t return in the period. Heath said Jones sustained a groin injury.
Heath said Brewer would remain day to day.