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Video: Highlights from UK's win over Arkansas

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Video: Coach Cal's post-Arkansas press conference

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UK accepting unique challenge presented by Arkansas

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Devin Booker leads Kentucky into a top-25 matchup with Arkansas on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Devin Booker leads Kentucky into a top-25 matchup with Arkansas on Saturday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
As much as John Calipari tells them to avoid it, the Wildcats can't help but hear.

They don't seek it out, but they hear the talk about their unbeaten run and pursuit of perfection. They hear how many fans throughout the country want them to lose and how Arkansas, Kentucky's next opponent, could be the team to finally make it happen.

They hear and they respond.

"When we hear that a team is going to challenge us, you know, could beat us, in some aspects we take it personally," Trey Lyles said. "We want to go out there and show those people who said that differently and just go out there and compete."

The top-ranked Cats (28-0, 15-0 Southeastern Conference) can be sure the No. 18/16 Razorbacks (23-5, 12-3 SEC) will do the same on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET in Rupp Arena. Needing a win to prevent Kentucky from clinching the conference regular-season title outright, Arkansas - UK's first ranked opponent in two months - will be ready.

"They will not be in awe of us," associate head coach Kenny Payne said. "They won't be intimidated. They'll come in with some confidence. But we will, too. We'll come in knowing that we're a different team, that we're going to get after them just like they're going to get after us."

Payne felt it necessary to point out UK is a different team because the previous edition of the Cats lost twice to Arkansas a season ago. Kentucky has dropped three straight to the Razorbacks overall, meaning no member of the regular rotation has won a game against Arkansas, a team led by Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls, combining to average 32.7 points per game.

"I just think that they have a competitive edge about them," Payne said. "They know that this team has beaten us twice, and they'll go out and compete."

UK's returners haven't been vocal about wanting to even the score against Arkansas, but their younger teammates are pretty sure the feeling is bubbling beneath the surface.

"I think they definitely remember," Lyles said. "They talk about it quite a lot now since the game is coming up, so I think they're going to have a little bit more energy and passion going out there tomorrow night."

Energy and passion will be at a premium against Arkansas, a team known for its up-tempo, high-pressure brand of basketball. The Razorbacks rank 15th nationally in defensive turnover percentage and sixth in adjusted tempo according to kenpom.com.

"I think Arkansas is the type of team that creates a lot of turnovers," Payne said. "They play well against us. It will be a great game tomorrow. We have to handle their pressure."

Payne compared Arkansas' pressure to Louisville's, which forced UK to commit a season-high-tying 18 turnovers. The Razorbacks, however, play at a different pace than the Cardinals, though Devin Booker has no reason to think the Cats won't be able to handle it.

"I feel like we can slow it down or we can play fast paced," Booker said. "With so many weapons that we have, we can just adjust to any type of game play. I think it will be a good challenge for us because we haven't really played an up-tempo game like they play in a while."

Most opponents have chosen to attack the deep, talented Wildcats by slowing the pace. UK, to this point, has passed every such test. Arkansas now presents a different kind of challenge.

"What it does is, defensively their style is making you play basketball," Payne said. "So if you think you're going to just catch the basketball, hold the ball, run offense, set offensive plays, it's not happening. They will force you to attack and hopefully teams that handle it have success; teams that don't, they struggle."

Whether Arkansas' style is the way to topple the last unbeaten team in the nation remains to be seen, but the Cats don't mind the chance to toss the shackles of a plodding, half-court game aside.

"I feel like we have good enough players to play basketball, so it'll be a good time," Booker said.

Video: Payne previews Saturday matchup with Arkansas

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Video: 'Uptown Dunk' -- UK's dunks get even more fun

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Trey Lyles scored a career-high 18 points in UK's win at Mississippi State on Wednesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics) Trey Lyles scored a career-high 18 points in UK's win at Mississippi State on Wednesday. (Chet White, UK Athletics)
Trey Lyles had just played arguably his best college game.

The freshman forward scored a career high at Mississippi State on Wednesday, showing the kind of versatility 6-foot-10 players aren't supposed to have.

But afterward, John Calipari was thinking bigger.

"He should have had 25 today," Calipari said, with a caveat. "But I thought he played well."

Lyles would have to settle for 18 points and six rebounds as top-ranked Kentucky moved to 28-0 (15-0 Southeastern Conference) with a 74-56 win in snowy Starkville, Miss. The Indianapolis native got off to a quick start, scoring the Wildcats' first basket on a lob dunk and 13 points within the first 15 minutes to make the illness that forced him to miss three games a not-so-distant memory.

"He's just getting healthy," Calipari said. "He's getting back to being who he is. You're talking two-three weeks, I don't know exactly how long he was out, but he was out awhile."

During the time Lyles spent away from his team, part of his treatment was to eat as much possible to avoid dropping pounds. He managed to stay near his listed weight of 235 pounds and now he's working to reach his pre-sickness fitness level.

"Lifting weights and doing extra stuff to try and get back to where I was, and I feel like I'm very close to that," Lyles said.

With Lyles on his way in that regard, Coach Cal is asking him to pick it up in terms of aggressiveness as well. Lyles is sixth among Wildcats in scoring, attempting barely six field goals per game, and Calipari doesn't think that's enough.

"My thing to him is, dominate," Calipari said. "Dominate rebounding around the rim. One-dribble pull-ups. Guard. Block shots. Do everything. You're capable of doing it."

It's the everything that makes Lyles so unique.

While Willie Cauley-Stein might create the most highlights with his high-flying dunks and Karl-Anthony Towns the most NBA Draft buzz with his potential and production, Lyles has a quieter game. Splitting time between the perimeter and the post, Lyles does what's asked of him and does it well.

"Maybe by (the media), but no one that evaluates basketball (overlooks Lyles)," Calipari said. "They know how good he is. They know what he's preparing for. I mean, he's being trained as a three. He's a 6-10, three-four and he's being trained as a three. All I want him to do is shoot more balls."

For the coach of a team playing one of the deepest rotations in the country, that's somewhat of an odd thing to have to tell a player to shoot more. Calipari, however, has good reason for doing so.

"I still think at the end of the day he'll be the X-factor for us," Calipari said. "He'll be the guy that they struggle to guard, that has offensive skills, that can still give us great size and rebounding ability."

Lyles has made an immediate difference since his return to the lineup. With him in the fold, UK has won the rebounding battle in four of five games after being outrebounded in three of the previous five.

Now Coach Cal is hoping Lyles can use his performance against Mississippi State as a springboard to being a spark in other areas.

"Let's say this is the start, maybe, of something," Calipari said.

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  • Glenn Lambdin: I would like to see Kevin Booker and Trey Lyles involved more in the scoring process. When people play the read more