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Kentucky vs Arkansas: Postgame Recap

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© Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday night, the Kentucky Wildcats played another – fortunately their last – late Tuesday night game of the season against the Arkansas Razorbacks. Similarly, both teams had not lived up to high preseason expectations, but each came into Tuesday’s matchup playing their best basketball of the season.

Indicative of that, the Wildcats entered the game on a six-game SEC winning streak, compared to a four-game winning streak from the Razorbacks. Naturally, one of them had to come to an end.

Kentucky’s freshmen – Chris Livingston and Cason Wallace – displayed how much they have grown, scoring the Wildcats’ first nine points. The story of the first half was Daimion Collins, who came in due to Oscar Tshiebwe’s foul trouble and stepped up big time. Playing six first-half minutes, he scored seven points and looked good in the pick-and-roll action on offense.

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The first half went about as expected, as the two teams traded blows, never really separating themselves. However, it should be noted that John Calipari did pick up a technical foul toward the end of the half after arguing a questionable call, allowing Arkansas to enter halftime with a 41-40 lead.

The start of the second half was not one the Calipari will want to remember, as the Wildcat turned the ball over four times in just over three minutes. Arkansas capitalized, scoring six points on those turnovers and extending the lead to as much as nine.

The self-dug was too much to overcome. Combine that with a lack of physicality and poor pick-and-roll defense, the game quickly got out of reach. In the end, Arkansas won 78-63.

Let’s take a closer look at the loss.

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Physicality

As we have gotten accustomed to, an Eric Musselman-led Arkansas team is going to be physical and there was no shortage of physical play on Tuesday night. “The game was a physical game. If you weren’t ready for that, you were going to get knocked off point,” Calipari said in

Knocked off point is exactly what happened. The two areas where that can be proven most as the physicality ramped up in the second half is the rebounding battle – Arkansas: 16, Kentucky: 15 – and points in the paint – Arkansas: 28, Kentucky: 10.

A Step Back on Defense

Kentucky’s defense has been their biggest liability all season. However, some strides had been taken during their 6-1 stretch.

As evidence, the Wildcats were giving up nearly 72 points per contest through the first sixteen games, but that number has dropped to 65 points over the last seven games. This includes holding a confident Florida team to just 22 points in the first half this past weekend.

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On Tuesday, it is fair that the defense took a step back. While the Kentucky offense was able to keep pace with Arkansas in the first half, Kentucky was not able to get stops. In the second half, that issue was made worse as the Razorbacks were getting to the rim at ease through their pick-and-roll action, which doesn’t look like it is ever going to improve.

As John Calipari said in the postgame press conference, “You’re not going to win a game if they’re shooting 72 percent.”

Oscar Tshiebwe

Oscar Tshiebwe is the reigning National Player of the Year, but has not looked close to that level in the last two games.

Against Florida, you can attribute a poor game to Colin Castleton’s length, which is something Thsiebwe has struggled against. However, on Tuesday, he was completely outplayed by a Rhode Island transfer of familiar size that averages 4 points per game, Makhel Mitchell.

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Tshiebwe was once again attacked on the pick-and-roll, which is where Mitchell received the bulk of his points. However, that is the second straight game he has been held to seven points or less.

Still on the bubble, Kentucky is entering a stretch with some big-win opportunities available. To win, Tshiebwe is going to have to step up and play like the Oscar we know.

Daimion Collins

If you’re looking for a bright spot in this game, look at Daimion Collins. It may be a few months later than expected, but we are watching his emergence.

Standing 6-foot-10, with a 7-foot-5 wingspan, Collins has had all the physical tools, but has not carried over to a lot of success on the floor. That is until recently. While it has been in limited action, Collins has looked great, and he had his best performance of the season on Tuesday.

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With Oscar Tshiebwe dealing with foul trouble, Collins was asked to step up and that is what he did. Through six minutes in the first half, Collins scored 7 points and defended the pick-and-roll better than anyone all night.

Yet, he played just two minutes in the second half, despite Tshiebwe’s aforementioned struggles. When asked why after the game, “It was a bigger picture for Oscar than just this game. It was like, let’s get him going just to get him right.”

With that said, if Collins can sustain his level of play, he can be the rim protector and another key energy guy off the bench.

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Men's Basketball

Lamont Butler Believes In Mark Pope And Will “Do Whatever It Takes To Put A Number Nine Up In Those Rafters”

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Lamont Butler transferred to Kentucky to prove that his more than just a defender.
Photo by Eddie Justice | UK Athletics

Lamont Butler has proven himself as one of the premier defenders in college basketball over the last four seasons at San Diego State, having earned MWC All-Defense honors in three straight seasons and winning the 2024 MWC Defensive Player of the Year Award.

With that level of defensive impact, Butler had no shortage of interest when he put his name in the transfer portal this Spring. In less than 48 hours after officially entering the portal, he had his decision, choosing Kentucky and becoming just the second commit of the Mark Pope era.

Butler’s parents, Lamont Butler Sr. and Carmicha Butler, recently spoke to KSR about how the family decided on Kentucky and what kind of player and young man the Wildcats are getting.

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“I can start off simply by saying that it’s Kentucky,” Lamont Sr. said. “Most kids in America, if they ever got the opportunity to play for a program like that, any kid would jump at it. With Lamont being in the position in life that he put himself in, it was the perfect move for him.”

While the brand of Kentucky Basketball is a big selling point, and one that Pope is emphasizing more than Calipari did, it was not the only selling point. The other big part was how Butler was going to be used at Kentucky, and Pope and his staff hopped on a plane to Las Vegas where he was working out, to do just that.

“We were at the gym working out, when, all of a sudden, we see the men in black coming in,” Lamont Sr. said. “I’m like, wow. It was the whole kit and caboodle. They were serious about Lamont.”

Before meeting with Butler and his family, Pope was already very familiar with his game having competed against him for three seasons at San Diego State in the MWC, and that certainly showed.

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“He practically broke Lamont’s game down,” Carmicha said. “He told him how he played, who he is, how he wanted to use him, his plans for him at Kentucky, and what he wanted to do with him. For me, it was amazing for Pope, who he never played for, to know that much detail about my son, on and off the court. That was a major plus, a major benefit.” 

Pope’s plan for Butler though is to show off his full game. While he is known as a defender, there is much more to his game, with his father highlighting his unselfishness and leadership.

“Lamont is the type of player who’s unselfish to a fault,” Lamont Sr. said. “I was telling someone, that Lamont scored 1,000 points but would’ve passed those 1,000 points up to make the right play. There are too many selfish players in the world. Everybody wants me, me, me, me, me. Lamont is about us, us, us. I told him that’s what’s going to take him far in life.” 

Those two characteristics are a big reason why Pope wants Butler on the ball, rather than off the ball which was the case most of the time he was at San Diego State.

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“It doesn’t matter to Lamont, but Pope is going to have him on the ball. That’s what a lot of people don’t know,” Lamont Sr. said. “That’s what it’s going to be, to lead the team and make sure he’s playing faster than he’s ever played.”

The primary thing though, Kentucky fans are getting a player who is willing to do whatever it takes to put another banner in the rafters.

“They’re getting somebody who’s going to give it his all on the court, injured or not,” Lamont Sr. said. “He’s going to be out there and do whatever it takes to put a number nine up in those rafters. That’s what Lamont is coming to do.”

Also published on A Sea of Blue.

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Men's Basketball

Trent Noah Says He Looks up to His Friend Reed Sheppard, On and Off the Court

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Noah: UK Athletics, Sheppard: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

The level of high school basketball talent in Kentucky is the best it has been in several years. Last year, Kentucky fans got to witness the emergence of Reed Sheppard, and they are hopeful more of “Kentucky’s own” can help the Wildcats on the court under Mark Pope. Two such players are coming in next season, Mr. Kentucky Basketball Travis Perry of Lyon County, and Trent Noah of Harlan County.

The latter was recently interviewed by a fellow Kentucky native and former Wildcat, Cameron Mills, and the UK Sports Network. In that interview Noah not only talked about his excitement to join his home-state program and preparation for this coming season, but he also talked about looking up his friend and former teammate Reed Sheppard.

“He’s (Sheppard) such a great player. One of the best I have ever been around,” Noah told Mills. That just doesn’t stop off the court either. “He is a really good person. A really good friend. Someone I look up to.”

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Noah is just one year younger than Sheppard, but both are from the 13th region and the two formed a friendship when they were teammates for two seasons in the Adidas 3SSB Circuit with Midwest Basketball Club. What does Noah look up to Sheppard most for?

“He’s such a great leader. He’s always leading by actions. He just knows how to play. He has that natural gift. He’s always in the right spot at the right time. He obviously shoots the cover off the ball.”

Noah notes that to take some of those attributes and apply them to his game wouldn’t do anything but help them.

Toward the end of the interview, Mills asked Noah a theoretical question: “In an NBA-style three-point contest, who’s winning, you or Reed?”

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We know that Sheppard just shot the third-best three-point percentage in Kentucky basketball history, but he shot just over 30 percent in high school. Whereas Noah shot 43% (102-237) from 3-point range as a senior. With that, Noah is taking himself. “He can shoot it, but I don’t know if I can say he would beat me.”

It’s pretty cool to see the connection that Kentucky’s own have with the program and share with each other. Check out the full interview below!

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BB Recruiting

2025 Five Star, Potential Reclass Candidate Will Riley Begins Kentucky Visit

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2025 five star prospect and reclass candidate, Will Riley, takes his official visit to Kentucky June 4th-6th.
IMAGN/USA Today

Will Riley, one of the top rising seniors in the class of 2025, is set to begin a two-day official visit to Kentucky on Tuesday. This was first reported by Kentucky Insider last week.

The 6-foot-8 small forward out of Malvern, PA, is currently down to five schools: Kentucky, Arkansas, Arizona, Illinois, and Alabama, and is leaving the possibility of playing professionally in the NBL in Australia. Riley is coming off a visit to Illinois and will visit Alabama later this week.

Already considered a consensus Top 25 prospect in the country according to 247 Sports, ESPN, and Rival, Riley’s stock is only continuing to rise. His calling card is his scoring ability and he has put that on display this Spring.

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Through the first four sessions of the Nike EYBL circuit, he is averaging 21.9 points per game, on fairly efficient numbers, shooting 49.6 % from the field,  31.7 % from three-point range, and 79 % from free throws. Riley also adds 4.7 rebounds per game and 2.5 assists per game in just under 30 minutes.

A possible reclass candidate, Riley is considering making the jump from the 2025 class to the 2024 class. That decision is yet to be determined, adding an element of suspense to his potential future in college basketball.

With one current scholarship remaining for the upcoming roster, Kentucky is open to Riley reclassing and joining this year’s roster, underlining the significance of his potential addition to the team.

However, Jaxson Robinson’s commitment makes it less likely that Kentucky would be the choice if he does reclass. If he decides to remain in the 2025 class, Kentucky would remain toward the top of his list.

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Does Riley become the first top 25 recruit in the Mark Pope era?

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