FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — It’s hard to believe these days, but it was just last week when Kentucky lost its fourth game in a row.
Just don’t ask Kevin Knox to reflect on that losing streak, at least not after the Wildcats put together one of their most dominating halves of the season in an 87-72 win at Arkansas on Tuesday night.
Knox scored 23 points in the win for Kentucky (19-9, 8-7 Southeastern Conference), which won for the sixth straight time over the Razorbacks. It was also the Wildcats second straight win after its long-forgotten losing streak, a victory that helped them avoid losing five out of six games for the first time since the 2008-09 season.
“I don’t remember that (losing streak) at all,” Knox joked. “I just remember the last two weeks.”
Knox was one of five players to finish in double figures for Kentucky, which shot 46.3 percent (31 of 67) in the win and overcame an early 11-point deficit.
It was the dominating fashion with which the Wildcats took control of the game in the second half that left the Bud Walton Arena crowd stunned. After Arkansas (19-9, 8-7) took a 61-56 lead midway through the half, Kentucky outscored the Razorbacks 31-11 to end the game — thanks in large part to a 23-12 rebounding edge in the half and 46-29 advantage for the game.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 18 points for the Wildcats, while PJ Washington finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Quade Green added 12 points and Jarred Vanderbilt 11 for a Kentucky team led by its usual influx of freshmen, one that appears to have righted its ways after its four-game swoon.
“The thing I can’t do for these kids is there’s experiences they’ve got to live that I cannot talk them through,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said. “When you’re playing all freshmen, there’s experiences they have to go through — one of them is being down 11-0 on the road to a team that was so hyped to play this game that it was crazy.”
Daryl Macon scored 26 points to lead the Razorbacks, who had their four-game winning streak snapped. It was the ninth time in the last 10 games Macon has scored 20 or more points. Anton Beard added 13 points and Jaylen Barford scored 12 for Arkansas.
The Razorbacks entered the game 14-1 in Bud Walton Arena with an average margin of victory of 17.2 points per game. They opened Tuesday night on an 11-0 run, but Kentucky recovered from the slow start to end the half tied 43-43 — thanks in large part to a 22-10 halftime edge in points in the paint.
The change in momentum was a sign of things to come during the Wildcats game-clinching run in the second half.
“They made a terrific run at a crucial time,” Macon said. “After they went on that run, they were just clicking the (rest) of the game.”
Kentucky: The Wildcats entered the game last in the SEC in made 3-pointers, with only 129 on the season compared to 216 for Arkansas. They had no problems from behind the arc on Tuesday night, finishing 8 of 21 on 3-pointers — including three 3-pointers by Knox. Wenyen Gabriel started the late run with a 3-pointer to bring the Wildcats within 61-59, and Kentucky hit three more 3-pointers during the stretch to close out the win.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks were 26th in the NCAA’s RPI ratings coming into the game, and a victory would have gone a long way toward securing an NCAA Tournament berth for a third time in four seasons for the school. They still have several chances to impress the selection committee to end the regular season, including road games at Alabama and Missouri and a home contest with No. 12 Auburn.
After making 8 of 19 3-pointers in the first half, Arkansas went cold from behind the arc in the second half. The Razorbacks made just 1 of 7 3-pointers in the half, during which Kentucky outscored Arkansas 44-29. “It just seemed like we had some big lulls in the game,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “The game came down to defensively we didn’t do a good job stopping them and we didn’t score, and sometimes that starts to affect your defense.”
Kentucky hosts Missouri on Saturday.
The Razorbacks are at Alabama on Saturday.
Follow Kurt Voigt on Twitter at @Kurt_Voigt_AP