Antonio Reeves scored a game-high 24 points and No. 6 Kentucky overcame a sub-par shooting performance to put away Arkansas 63-57 on Saturday.
The Wildcats (15-4, 5-2 Southeastern Conference) took their first lead with 12:54 remaining in the second half when Reed Sheppard stole the ball and punctuated a 7-0 run with a dunk.
About five minutes later, Reeves picked up a steal-and-slam to put the Wildcats ahead for good, 44-43.
“We would not fight back (Wednesday in a 79-62 loss against South Carolina). We let them do whatever they wanted to do to us. Today we fought back,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said.
Kentucky missed 10 straight field goals during a stretch in the middle of the first half, allowing Arkansas to take a double-digit lead. The Razorbacks (10-10, 1-6) then went cold as both teams shot 29% from the floor in the opening 20 minutes. Kentucky shot 36.5% for the game.
Sheppard and Reeves each scored 14 points in the second half, with all of Sheppard’s coming after halftime. They combined for all seven of Kentucky’s points during the game-changing run.
“Reed and I, I told him, you come up to me in the game and you say ‘Stick with me, coach, just stick with me,'” Calipari said. “I was happy for Reed. He did some good stuff today. That’s who he is.”
Turnovers were Arkansas’ downfall. The Razorbacks, who finished with 13 giveaways, had a chance to cut the game to one possession with 2:20 left, but D.J. Wagner picked off a pass and went the other way for a layup to give Kentucky its largest lead of the game, six points. Sheppard later hit a 3-pointer.
Tre Mitchell scored 10 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. Makhi Mitchell led Arkansas with 12 points, while Tramon Mark and Khalif Battle each scored 11.
Kentucky guard Rob Dillingham, whose 13.9 points per game are second on the team, did not play for Kentucky because of illness.
Arkansas announced 10 minutes before tip that starting guard Devo Davis had “stepped away from the team.” No reason was given and no timetable was provided for his potential return. Davis has been a regular starter in four seasons with the Razorbacks and averaged 6.3 points per game this year.
Kentucky is in a bit of a funk. The Wildcats lost earlier in the week by 17 points against South Carolina and even though they beat Arkansas on Saturday, not all is glimmering for John Calipari’s bunch.
Arkansas needs a push in the second half of SEC play just to make the NIT. The Razorbacks’ run of three straight Sweet 16s appears cooked before February, barring a miracle.