Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said he believes Kentucky is a team that can beat any team in the country — even if the Cats are 5-12 going into tonight’s game.
But Arkansas is clearly playing better as it has won four straight SEC games and four of the last five with the only loss coming to Oklahoma State in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge. Kentucky has lost six of its last seven games.
“They’ve got an exciting style of play. They’re mixing games a little bit with some of their defenses. There getting some of their younger guys, not even their younger guys, more guys who maybe weren’t even playing earlier in the year that have stepped up,” UK assistant coach Joel Justus said Monday.
“It’s going to be a game that we’re once again going to have to have some guys make individual plays. We’re going to have to play great team defense. I think if we can guard, you know, keep the ball in front, compete on the backboards, get out and fly a little bit in transition, I think we can have some success.”
Kentucky’s guards were “bullied” by Tennessee’s two freshman guards last week and figure to have just as much trouble containing Arkansas’ guards.
Kentucky is a top 20 defensive team nationally but most of UK’s breakdowns come against one-on-one play.
“What happens then is when you do have a good defensive team, people’s actions were broken down and they just kind of turned to one-on-one. That’s really kind of basketball on both ends of the floor. At some point, the play is going to break down and it’s going to be, can you get a stop or can you create for yourself? Can you create for a teammate? I think we’ve got to be ready, like every game, to guard the ball,” Justus said.
“Coach Musselman is historically done a really good job of finding mismatches. So, we’ve got to be aware of that heading into the game of, where are the potential mismatches? How do we –- and the emphasis on we -– how do we help each other and work together so that we don’t get kind of exposed by their offensive game plan?”
Arkansas has a defensive stopper in 7-3 freshman Connor Vancouver, who has blocked 13 shots over the last three games. He is third in the SEC with two blocks per game and 19th nationally. Arkansas has blocked at least five shots in each of the last six games and RANKS SIX IN THE NCAA in total blocked shots (97) and ranks 15th in the nation in blocks per game (5.1).
“Obviously with his size and length around the rim, I think they do some unique things defensively to keep him around the rim,” Justus said. “Offensively, he can stretch the floor as well and shoot jump shots. Probably not going to get a lot of blocked shots with him around or on the perimeter. But I think with all big guys, offensively you’ve got to find ways to attack their body, to take away that height and that length.
“I feel good about where we are right now with some of the things that we’ve discussed early on and we’ll get after it today in practice and see, like I said, how our guys look with the early game plan.”