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Arkansas-Kentucky Preview

AP - Sports

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) -- - There's just no way to forget the sequence that led to Michael Qualls soaring in for the put-back dunk that gave Arkansas an overtime win over Kentucky last month.

Coach John Calipari said his 17th-ranked Wildcats aren't about to let Qualls surprise them again in Thursday night's rematch in Lexington.

The Razorbacks (18-9, 7-7 SEC) haven't won in Rupp Arena since their national-championship season in 1993-94, losing nine straight there since then.

At home, however, Arkansas earned its second straight win over the Wildcats (21-6, 11-3) on Jan. 14, doing so in dramatic fashion behind Qualls' remarkable dunk.

With the game tied in the closing seconds of overtime, the sophomore flew in from the left baseline - corralling Ky Madden's 3-point miss and sending it down with two hands and 0.2 seconds remaining to give the Razorbacks the 87-85 win.

The high-flying Qualls has become a fixture on national highlight shows this season, but none equaled the timeliness of his last-second miracle against Kentucky.

"It was unbelievable," Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said.

Qualls scored 18 points that night, the third-most in his career.

"Well, what he does athletically, he can stand out," Calipari said. "We obviously know how good he is, but knowing how good he is and trying to slow a guy down are two different things."

Kentucky is coming off another overtime game as it beat visiting LSU 77-76 on Julius Randle's short jumper in the lane with 3.9 seconds remaining Saturday.

''It helped us a lot and brought us closer together as a team,'' said guard Aaron Harrison, who had a game-high 21 points. ''We enjoyed that moment. We just all want to win.''

With Qualls leading the way, Arkansas has reeled off five wins in six games to keep its once-faint NCAA tournament hopes alive after a 2-6 start in conference play. A win at Kentucky would really burnish those hopes.

"Right now, no one is talking about us in the nation; like we aren't on anyone's bubble or anything right now," leading scorer Bobby Portis said. "So, I think (if) we go out there and win Thursday, that will be a wakeup call for us around the nation."

The dunk was actually one of few highlights for Qualls during a difficult stretch to open SEC play. After leading the Razorbacks in scoring during nonconference action, Qualls struggled mightily once conference play began.

He shot 11 of 56 (19.6 percent) over his first six SEC games, and his woes became so pronounced that he scored just one point in a season-low 10 minutes in an 81-74 loss at Tennessee on Jan. 22.

The lowest moment came when Qualls was suspended for an 88-74 loss at LSU for violating team rules Feb. 1, though he's bounced back. After a two-point outing in his return against Alabama, Qualls has scored in double figures in five straight games - including a 20-point effort last week in a 71-64 win over South Carolina.

"Just lack of focus," Qualls said. "That's all it was, a lack of focus ... Some big moments, I stepped up because it was a big moment, but basically I just had to realize every game is a big moment, especially when your back is against the wall."

Kentucky isn't about to question the Razorbacks' focus.

"They're better," assistant coach Orlando Antigua told the school's official website. "They're right in the middle of the pack with the rest of the teams in the conference and we know they're going to go out and compete and play hard, and we're excited about the challenge."

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