LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) – Andrew Harrison and Trey Lyles each scored 18 points, and top-ranked Kentucky defeated No. 18 Arkansas 84-67 Saturday to clinch the Southeastern Conference regular-season title.
The long-awaited marquee matchup of the SEC’s top two teams belonged to the undefeated Wildcats (29-0, 16-0) on both ends as they earned their 46th league title and halted a three-game losing streak against the Razorbacks (23-6, 12-4). Kentucky’s league-leading defense held the conference’s top scoring team to just 38 percent shooting and 12 points below its average.
The Wildcats meanwhile shot 48 percent from the field and outrebounded the Razorbacks 38-32, among other statistics, to extend their best-ever start.
Tyler Ulis added 14 points and Devin Booker 10 for Kentucky, which led by as many as 31 with eight minutes left.
Michael Qualls’ 17 points led four Arkansas players in double figures, but the Razorbacks couldn’t keep up after the early minutes.
Bobby Portis added 15 points, Alandise Harris 12 and Rashad Madden 11.
This game mattered a little more for the Wildcats. Besides facing perhaps their last major hurdle to an unbeaten regular season, they were also motivated to beat Arkansas for just the second time in six meetings.
The Wildcats succeeded by slowing down Arkansas and keeping its dangerous duo of 6-foot-11 Portis and 6-6 Qualls. Lyles, Willie Cauley-Stein (seven points, nine rebounds, four blocks) and Karl-Anthony Towns (eight points, five rebounds) had a lot to do with that as Kentucky controlled the paint 40-24.
Kentucky’s other objective was avoiding lapses that made Wednesday’s game at Mississippi State tight for a stretch before the Wildcats eventually took control for an 18-point win.
The Wildcats quelled that concern from the start with a quick pace that knocked the Razorbacks on their heels. Lyles started things off with a lob dunk from Towns, who followed with a putback basket.
Aaron Harrison soon added a 3-pointer to get a sellout crowd into the game, and Kentucky had plenty more in an energetic if chippy first half by both teams.
The teams combined for 22 fouls and 32 free throws and Kentucky made the most of its chances by making 15 of 20 from the line in building a 42-26 halftime lead. The Wildcats went to make 21 of 28 free throws.
Arkansas went 0-for-9 from long range and shot 30 percent shooting overall along with outrebounding the Razorbacks 24-18 through 20 minutes.