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The Kentucky era



Arkansas was probably not well equipped to defeat Kentucky over the weekend, just to be thoroughly blunt. At the outset of Saturday's much-anticipated game, the Wildcats scored on a lob dunk within the first 10 seconds, and then seemingly strangled all possible momentum away from Arkansas anytime it dared attempt creation thereof.

This is Kentucky's epoch, my disillusioned friends. While the rest of the powerhouses that dot the country still have to continually wrestle with one-and-done posturing from mercurial teens, John Calipari wears his Ponzi zealotry without compunction and sells it with aplomb. "Spend two semesters here," I envision him saying in a clandestine, darkened room to wide-eyed power forwards and two-guards, "and the next 15 worrying only about which color Bentley you'll buy." (In said vision, for edification, Calipari is also curiously wearing a trenchcoat lined with knockoff wristwatches and a slightly tarnished wizard hat.)

Give the devil his due, earnestly. This Cat squad is supremely balanced and a paragon of execution in all possible phases, and utilizes bursts of momentum in a fashion that is simply crippling to the opponent. Kentucky started ablaze against the Razorbacks, and then jockeyed with the Hogs for a good 15 minutes before ending the first half on yet another scoring spurt. It's that exacting precision and discipline that makes a 42-26 halftime score feel doubly unmanageable. When the Razorbacks nibbled away at the lead here and there, then tried to assert backcourt traps, it was an endeavor of futility against an obscenely fast stable of players who can all weather that sort of pressure deftly.

All hope wasn't lost, though. Arkansas didn't figure to clang another 10, typically unguarded three-point attempts, nor be so haphazard passing. The first half had been a case study in Murphy's Law, save for a steady free-throw stroke. Four days earlier, having severely punished Texas A&M over 20 minutes, the Hogs watched the Aggies bull ahead with a fiendish attitude despite all apparent impediments at Bud Walton. Lesson learned. Can't quit. Gotta push onward, even when the opponent has that impenetrable veneer.

So, on the plus end, Arkansas still fought like hell and got some of those shots to drop. The Hogs made it a focal point to boost tempo and continue getting tough on the glass despite the physical disparity. When the officiating threatened to prop up Kentucky even further, Mike Anderson's temperature crescendoed nicely and nearly to the point of a forced exit. He earned one technical foul with a nifty entry into the court after Rashad Madden was victimized without a whistle, and seethed so much afterward that a disqualification seemed imminent.

There, in a lost cause of a game, we all witnessed the progressions by which a team has emerged. Michael Qualls restored confidence in his patented corner trey, scampered for loose balls, and bodied up against anyone who felt blue and white garb connoted superiority. Anderson smugly called for a final stoppage with eight seconds remaining and the outcome verging on historical permanence. Bobby Portis posted solid numbers in a game effort to persuade voters that he is, in fact, the conference's Player of the Year front-runner.

What stung the Hogs in the end was an absence of depth. The starters played to 60-all, but Kentucky's reserves posted the decisive 24-7 edge that spelled the 84-67 final margin. The Wildcats did exhibit a sneering disdain for having lost three straight close ones to Arkansas, as many predicted. They handled their business in the selfsame way in which the handful of unbeaten champs have done.

If this is indeed Kentucky's year, so be it. What Anderson hopes and believes is that it also serves as the catalyst for program building, which in all fairness, is what makes more sense at Fayetteville. The Wildcats' lease-to-own model is one that likely could not and would not be sustainable in any other locale.

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