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Kentucky basketball records 2nd-largest margin of defeat at Rupp Arena under John Calipari

LEXINGTON, Ky. — As Daimion Collins' shot rattled through the rim and the backboard lit up to end Tuesday's first half, Rupp Arena exploded. Collins' basket helped Kentucky trim Arkansas' halftime lead to a single point, 41-40.

The crowd hoped for more of the same after intermission.

The Wildcats didn't give them much to cheer about early in the second half — and those mistakes ultimately became too much to overcome.

Arkansas waltzed into Lexington and left with a decisive 88-73 victory, snapping UK's six-game SEC win streak.

The loss marked the second-largest margin of defeat the Wildcats (16-8, 7-4 SEC) have suffered at home during John Calipari’s tenure, which began with the 2009-10 season. The only team to beat a Calipari-led Kentucky group by more at Rupp: Alabama by 20 in 2021.

Kentucky's second-half issues Tuesday started almost as soon as it came out of the locker room. Arkansas forward/center Makhi Mitchell made a jumper on the opening possession. Then the Wildcats started shooting themselves — in the foot, not the ball into the basket. Following Mitchell's bucket, Kentucky guard Cason Wallace threw the ball away. Arkansas guard Anthony Black picked it up and sped down the floor for an easy dunk. Twenty seconds later, same thing. Only this time, another Wildcat guard, CJ Fredrick, tossed a lazy pass. Black intercepted it and threw down another dunk.

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Not even a minute later, Wallace turned over the ball again, setting the stage for two more fast-break points for the Razorbacks on a layup from Davonte Davis.

"I was just so disappointed," Calipari said. "Turnover, turnover, dunk, layup. I'm looking around, I've got to call a timeout a minute into the half. Literally like, 'Come on, how did you lose that? How did you not get that ball?'"

Kentucky’s John Calipari couldn’t believe a call against Arkansas.Feb. 7, 2023
Kentucky’s John Calipari couldn’t believe a call against Arkansas.Feb. 7, 2023

Kentucky coughed up the ball four times and had a shot blocked in the opening four minutes of the second half.

In that time, its deficit ballooned from one to nine (52-43).

Against a team also fighting for its NCAA Tournament life in Arkansas (17-7, 6-5), it was too big a hole for Kentucky to dig out of.

"Giving them runouts, giving them turnovers, that builds a team's confidence," said Wildcat freshman forward Chris Livingston, who had 13 points Tuesday. "It was easy buckets for them, especially in the type of the game we were in. It was a tough battle, a tough fight. … We put our heads down after we make mistakes like that. So I think those were really big, pivotal moments."

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It’s not as if the Razorbacks simply capitalized on the Wildcats’ errors, though.

Arkansas did precisely what an opponent must do to win on the road, particularly in an environment as hostile as Rupp: It shot the living daylights out of the ball.

The Razorbacks connected on 62.7% (32 for 51) of their shots from the field and made 20 of their 24 (84%) free throws. They were white hot in the second half, hitting an eye-popping 72% (18 for 25) of their field goals.

For a team looking to play its way off the NCAA Tournament bubble, that’ll do.

"Come on. You're not going to win a game if they're shooting 72%," Calipari said. "We tried some zone. We did some different things. We switched."

Kentucky’s Chris Livingston makes the basket against Arkansas’ Ricky Council IV.Feb. 7, 2023
Kentucky’s Chris Livingston makes the basket against Arkansas’ Ricky Council IV.Feb. 7, 2023

Livingston said the Wildcats lacked fight and intensity in the second half. He credited Arkansas for making shots. But he also was irritated at his team's inconsistent defense.

"We still had a lot of breakdowns. Ball-screen coverage, that kind of got exposed in the Kansas game," said Livingston, referring to the Wildcats' 77-68 loss to the Jayhawks on Jan. 28. "The pick-and-roll coverage was really, really bad. Arkansas kind of did the same. They made three passes and were driving. We weren't really protecting the rim.

"On the other end, when we drove, there were consequences at the rim. We didn't really do that."

From Calipari's vantage point, that was the difference in the game.

"They were physical, they drove the ball," he said of the Razorbacks, who have beaten the Wildcats three straight times. "Our rim protection was awful. I can't get guys to body up and do this stuff, and they did a great job of bodying up us."

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It didn't help matters that Oscar Tshiebwe, the unanimous national player of the year a season ago, was held in check offensively for the second consecutive outing. In UK's win over Florida last week, he scored just two points on 2-of-14 shooting; Tuesday, he finished with seven, going 3 of 6 from the field and sinking his lone free throw attempt.

It's only the second time in Tshiebwe's two seasons at Kentucky he's failed to post a double-figure point total in back-to-back games.

"There was one point I said, 'We're throwing it to him every time,' and we were trying to get it into him," Calipari said. "I thought he worked at times, and other times they were getting around the post. They trapped him or they just bodied him. I was doing some stuff to let him get some jump shots, to just get him going, and he's got to be better for us — and he will be. He will be."

A win over the Razorbacks would have helped the Wildcats' NCAA Tournament resume. With Arkansas sitting at No. 28 in the NET rankings Tuesday, it would have qualified as a Quad 1 victory. Kentucky now is 1-7 in Quad 1 matchups this season.

Calipari isn't deterred, however.

"We'll learn. They were way better than us today," he said. "We've just got to figure it out."

It was a far rosier view than Livingston, who said he couldn't take any positives out of his own performance given the game's result.

All he could focus on was the Wildcats' lack of attention to detail defensively.

"It's difficult when you give the other team baskets — especially on top of that, when we were in the half court, we were still giving up baskets, whether it was pick-and-roll or them driving into the lane," he said. "It was just bad all around for us."

Reach Kentucky men’s basketball and football reporter Ryan Black at rblack@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter at @RyanABlack.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Kentucky vs Arkansas college basketball game: Wildcats now 7-4 in SEC