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Arkansas' style offers a welcome change for UK, but no respite

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Freshman point guard Marquis Teague will take on Arkansas' full-court press on Tuesday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) Freshman point guard Marquis Teague will take on Arkansas' full-court press on Tuesday. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
Old Dominion, Auburn and Tennessee have written the book on Kentucky.

To hang with the supremely talented Wildcats, UK should expect most of its opponents to use the physical, half-court style those three teams employed.

Not Arkansas.

When the Razorbacks (13-4, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) face off against No. 2 Kentucky (17-1, 3-0) at 9 p.m. on Tuesday in Rupp Arena, first-year head coach Mike Anderson is going to throw that book out the window and play the fast-paced, pressing brand of basketball his teams at UAB, Missouri and now Arkansas have always been known for.

"We won't go away from what we do," Anderson said.

Anderson coached under Nolan Richardson in the 1990's when Arkansas used "40 Minutes of Hell" to reach back-to-back national championship games and the Razorbacks have made a return to some of those principals.

For a UK team that has played an average of just 63.5 possession a game over its last four outings largely due to its opponents taking the air out of the ball, the chance to play a team that's averaging over 73.2 possessions on the year is an energizing one.

"This is going to be exciting," freshman guard Marquis Teague said. "We look forward to these types of games, playing up and down, being able to use our speed and athleticism."

Clearly, the Wildcats are excited to welcome a team to Lexington, Ky., that won't shy away from running with them. The fans that will bear witness in Rupp Arena or on ESPN will probably feel much the same way.

"We're going to attack them," Anderson said. "That's how we play. We play up-tempo, attack basketball. They play the same way in terms of getting up and down the floor. I think for the fans in attendance and hopefully the fans that are watching, it should be a great game with two teams that are going to go after each other."

Arkansas' M.O. is to use a balanced nine-man rotation and full-court traps to force turnovers and make their opponents uncomfortable from start to finish, not unlike the UK women's team under Matthew Mitchell. The Razorbacks are forcing 18.4 turnovers per game and have committed nearly five fewer miscues per game than their opponents have.

"When they speed you up, they're getting into you," UK head coach John Calipari said. "They don't press like normal teams where if you complete a pass, they run down. They come running at you."

In other words, the Wildcats might be excited to be playing the type of game they enjoy, but they also better be ready for the unique challenges the Razorbacks will throw at them.

"It's another thing for our point guard to feel and our guards to feel and work their way through," Calipari said. "They're a good team."

Arkansas is without their top post presence in Marshawn Powell, who underwent a season-ending knee injury in November, but their backcourt has stepped up in his absence. Freshman guard B.J. Young will likely come off the bench on Tuesday, but he's averaging a team-best 15.0 points per game. He has hit 28-of-64 (43.8 percent) from 3-point range on the season and he isn't even his team's top long-range threat. Sophomore Mardracus Ware is 36-of-73 (49.3 percent) on the season and is his team's second-leading scorer.

The Razorbacks are talented and deep, but Anderson still says they will have to play "one of our best games of the year" just to have a chance. Ultimately, a close game is what he's hoping for.

"I think one of the things is you've just got to give yourselves a chance to make it happen," Anderson said. "The way you do that is you've just got to be within striking distance. You've got to hang around. They pose a lot of problems for a lot of people. It's not coincidental that they're one of the best teams in the country."

A season ago, a close game would have been worrisome for UK, but the Wildcats are already proving themselves capable of coming up big in the clutch in 2011-12. Kentucky has won three of its four games decided by single digits, including this weekend's comeback victory over Tennessee.

"Last year we didn't have the confidence in ourselves to make plays that guys have in themselves this year," sophomore forward Terrence Jones said. "A lot of guys are stepping up and knocking down free throws in crunch time and hitting shots that, last year, I think guys just wouldn't shoot."

UK has shown an ability to turn up the intensity late in games, which is what it did against Tennessee, Auburn and even in failed comeback bid in its only loss this year at Indiana, but Calipari wants to see more of a killer instinct from the opening tip.

The Wildcats, after showing the ability to dominate on the glass in non-conference play, have been outrebounded in their three SEC games 99-94. If UK can return to the form that carried the Cats to a 107-54 rebounding advantage in their final two out of conference games by pursuing 50-50 balls as Calipari is demanding, it could be the difference against an undersized Arkansas team.

The Razorbacks have been outrebounded on the season and are among the worst defensive rebounding teams in the country, ranking 300th out of 345 teams according to kenpom.com.

"They've got three guys that are among the leading rebounders in the SEC so that poses a big challenge for our basketball team because that's one of the areas we're not as strong because we don't have that size," Anderson said. "I'm sure that plays into the advantage of Kentucky."

Even so, Arkansas is going to play its game. If shots are falling and Teague and his young teammates are uncertain in handling the pressure, the Razorbacks will take advantage.

"They're better than everybody gives them credit for," Calipari said. "Their style of play unleashes guys."

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