"We're not as tough as them," Wildcats head coach John Calipari said bluntly after the game. "We didn't play as hard as them and they wanted the game more than we did. We're not as physical. Their staff is saying as we walk off, 'They are soft.' "
That the Razorbacks wanted the game more than the Wildcats was evident in the effort 5-9 walk-on guard Kikko Haydar displayed against Kentucky's highly regarded 6-4 freshman guard Archie Goodwin. A year ago Goodwin spurned an offer from Arkansas, leaving the state to take what he called a quicker route to the NBA under Calipari.
No one would ever mistake Haydar for a future NBA star. His chief contribution to the Hogs has been as a decent three pointer shooter with a nose for defense. Yet there he was blowing through middle of Kentucky's defense for an easy layup at a crucial point in the second half as Goodwin flailed and missed on a blocked shot attempt.
Later Haydar trailed a dribbling Goodwin past the half-court line and ended up in a tangled pile with him on the baseline after tipping the ball away, setting off a mad rush between the two for possession of it. Razorback fans at Haydar's feet stood and cheered his hustle. On the other end of the floor Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson clapped and smiled.
A bit later sophomore forward Hunter Mickelson, who was also playing off the Hogs' bench, stole the ball away from Goodwin and raced to the rim for a thunderous dunk that elevated the home team to a 19 point lead.
Still, Goodwin fared better than most of his teammates, scoring 14 points with five rebounds in spite of the three turnovers he suffered. Booed and harassed by the Arkansas student section from the moment he appeared in the arena, Goodwin said the treatment he received from his homestate fans was not a issue in his play.
"I'm not from Fayetteville," Goodwin said quietly after the game. "I'm from Little Rock. Everybody in Little Rock loves me. That's all that matters to me."
Anderson was quick to pay tribute to his bench which also included eight points and seven rebounds from sophomore Rashad Madden and four points with three boards and a steal from walk-on Fred Gulley.
"I told them, 'You guys are the blue collar group,' " Anderson recalled. "(when they came in) the lead went from maybe seven or eight and ballooned up to almost 17. Also they made Kentucky exert a lot of energy. So kudos to them. Kudos to our bench."
For much of the season junior college transfer Coty Clark was a part of that bench. But after coming on strong in the second half of conference play Clarke finds himself a starter these days. There wasn't much he didn't do against Kentucky, scoring 14 points with 12 rebounds, six assists and three steals.
One of those steals lead to a blowout dunk by Madden off a football-like pass from Clarke on a play that helped bring the Hogs back from an early 11-4 deficit. Later the 6-7 Clarke took the ball right at
7-0 Wildcats' center Willie Cauley-Stein, deftly firing a behind-the-back pass in mid-air to teammate Marshawn Powell for a layup and a 15-14 Arkansas lead.
"He plays hard," Cauley-Stein acknowledged afterward. "I mean what do you want me to say? He plays with a lot of intensity. That fire that we didn't play with today."
"I told him, in order for us to be real good people just can't be able to focus on me and B.J. (Young)," Powell said of Clarke. "So he's picking it up and he's showing you what he can do."
Powell pulled down nine rebounds to go along with the 15 points he scored as Arkansas outboarded its opponent 44-37. Anderson had an explanation for his team's success with what had been a problem for much of the season.
"A lot of times we've played and we've been out of rhythm," Anderson observed. "Tonight we played athletic and I thought we were in rhythm. When we took the shots guys were going to the glass."
"They've got two big guys playing down there," Powell added, "so we knew we had to just box them out and crash the glass as hard we can. We were coming up with a lot of fifty-fifty balls."
The Razorbacks also made good use of 19 Kentucky turnovers which added the extra possessions that allowed them to put up 26 more shots than the visitors. "When you do that," Anderson marveled, you give yourself an excellent chance to win."