LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) – Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley had 18 points apiece as Kentucky spoiled the homecoming of Arkansas coach and former Wildcats standout John Pelphrey with a 63-58 victory over the Razorbacks Saturday.
Kentucky (15-10, 9-3) remained a perfect six-for-six in Southeastern Conference home games and sits two games behind No. 2 Tennessee for the top record in the East. Arkansas (18-8, 7-5) failed to make up ground on West-leading Mississippi State.
Pelphrey, a Kentucky native who was a fan favorite as a member of Rick Pitino’s “Unforgettables” team that lost to Christian Laettner and Duke in the 1992 NCAA regional final, returned to Rupp for the first time as a visiting head coach.
Moments after his players took the court to a scattering of boos, Pelphrey, wearing a Razorback red tie, received a standing ovation from the crowd as he made his entrance through the tunnel.
During team introductions, Pelphrey got an even more boisterous reception, with his retired No. 34 from his Kentucky playing days shown on the video screen.
And the Arkansas players nearly pulled this one out for their first-year coach.
Midway through the second half, Kentucky had trailed by as many as 7 points, but the Wildcats clawed back to regain the lead down the stretch.
First, a fade jumper by Crawford tied the game at 55-55 with just over two minutes left. Then, another fade by Bradley a minute later gave the Wildcats the lead for good.
During long stretches, it seemed the Razorbacks’ only hope was SEC player of the year candidate Sonny Weems, who had 26 points – two shy of his career high.
Down 29-28 early in the second half, Arkansas regained the lead with a 3-pointer by Weems, and he wasn’t finished there. He chased down a loose ball just before it bounced out of bounds, then tiptoed the sideline and sprinted to the basket for a fastbreak dunk.
Kentucky won despite making just 39 percent of its shots. The Wildcats dominated the rebounding battle 37-24 behind freshman Patrick Patterson, who had 11 rebounds to go along with his 14 points for his sixth double-double of the season.
At several points in the game, the Wildcats found momentum – and crowd support – when they needed it.
Kentucky trailed the first 13 minutes of the game and was behind 20-16 when Crawford nailed a 3 to cut the deficit to 1.
An Arkansas turnover on the ensuing inbound pass gave Kentucky the ball right back. That’s when Derrick Jasper gave Kentucky its first lead with one of several ugly Kentucky shots on the afternoon that went in.
Jasper’s first jumper was blocked, but he caught the deflection and heaved a prayer toward the basket while falling to the floor. Not only did the shot go in, putting the Wildcats ahead 21-20, but Jasper drew a foul from Vincent Hunter.
The free throw was no good, but the Rupp Arena crowd was awakened and didn’t seem to slumber again the rest of the game.
Arkansas plays at Alabama at 7:05 p.m. on Wednesday in a game televised by Raycom Sports.