Arkansas coach Eric Musselman says this Kentucky team ‘can win a national championship’

A season of disappointment for the “Muss Bus” continued on Saturday afternoon inside Rupp Arena.

The Arkansas men’s basketball team dropped to 14-15 overall and 5-11 in SEC play with a 111-102 loss to No. 16 Kentucky in Lexington.

The Hogs lost a high-scoring affair despite a strong scoring effort by graduate student guard Khalif Battle, who had a game-high 34 points. Battle was excellent from the foul line in particular: He went 17-for-18, and those 17 made free throws represented the most made by an opponent in Rupp Arena history.

Junior guard Tramon Mark also had 23 points for the Hogs, who led with less than five minutes to go. But Arkansas was outscored by 10 points over the final 4:45 of game time.

Afterward, Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman met with media members over Zoom to detail the defeat, in which seven Kentucky players scored in double figures.

Here’s everything that Musselman (who received a technical foul in the first half of the game) said:

Question about Arkansas not being able to keep pace with Kentucky in the closing minutes.

I thought our team played extremely hard. We had a couple of costly turnovers that I thought changed the complexion of the game, because they were live-ball turnovers. So I would say the two crucial turnovers.

The effort was phenomenal today by us, and by Kentucky. Kentucky played as hard as I’ve seen a team play. And I thought our team our team played as hard as we could play as well.

We made the decision that we were going to run today. The couple turnovers, baseline out-of-bounds defense, those are the two areas that I thought changed the complexion of the game. And then the 42 free throws attempted, really hard to overcome.

Not sure I’ve been around a team that plays this hard. Went 27 of 28 from the foul line. Had 10 steals, 13 assists and came away with the loss. But you’re talking about a Kentucky team that can win a national championship. And then playing in their building … you know.

Question about Kentucky’s Rob Dillingham.

He’s an NBA draft pick. He’s fast. He makes really difficult shots. But he was 5-of-13, 0-for-3 from the 3-point line. So I thought we did a good job taking away his 3-point shot. He made five field goals … Coming into the game, an NBA first-round pick, you can hold him to five field goals, we’d probably be fairly happy.

Question about how he feels after Arkansas’ effort in Saturday’s game.

I thought it was by far our best offensive game. Not even close. Thought we played as hard as we’ve played all year. The effort. The focus. The belief. All of those things were as good as they’ve been. It was a locker room that pregame thought they were going to win.

Halftime, thought they were going to win, and throughout the course of the huddles. Thought we showed great toughness. Thought we got on the floor for loose balls. You look at the field goals made, and it’s 34 to 34. The 3-point shots, seven (Arkansas) to nine (Kentucky). We took three less rebounds (UK actually had seven more rebounds), close enough for us. 28-42 (Free throws attempted, in UK’s favor).

That’s the number that sticks out to me.

Question about Arkansas’ frontcourt foul trouble in the game.

Problematic. I mean, both our bigs foul out. Not easy, but I thought guys stepped up. I thought (Jeremiah) Davenport had his best rebounding game of the year. We needed him to rebound the ball today because, out of necessity with the fouls, with Chandler (Lawson) and Makhi (Mitchell). We were going to need somebody to rebound the ball, and JD did that for us.

Question about Khalif Battle’s recent run of games.

Well the 18 FTAs (free throws attempted), he did a great job attacking the rim.

… I talked about a couple baseline out-of-bounds plays, and I talked about our live-ball turnovers, but we also missed I think three layups in the last six minutes of the game. Or there was contact and we missed it. That was an issue as well from an offensive standpoint, because other than that, offensively, we played as good as we could other than a couple live-ball turnovers and then some missed layups, cause we were trying to score points in the paint.

Question about a lengthy drought without making a field goal near the end of the game.

I think I mentioned live-ball turnovers, I think I mentioned some layups, I have not had a chance to watch the film, but that would be the answer. We scored enough points to win. If you go on the road with 102 points, we scored enough points to win today. That’s how I would answer that.

Question about using Saturday’s loss as a building block toward better play.

Every coach that I’ve worked for, your job is to try and continue to improve throughout the year. We did not play very well against Vanderbilt, but we were down double digits and fought and gave ourselves a chance to put the game into overtime, although we played poor basketball in that game. We showed some life towards the end of the game.

Again, are we making progress? Today we made progress. We played our best offense, did a great job focusing on the foul line in a very tough environment. Defensively, we weren’t that good but this team has done that to other teams, especially in their own building. We had a chance to beat a team that has a chance to win the national championship.

Did we lose? Absolutely, all the credit goes to Coach Calipari and Kentucky, but in that locker room that we represent, I’m extremely proud to be associated with their effort and the way they battled tonight. That’s all you can ask for from a group of young men and that’s what they went out and did tonight.

Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman yells to his players during Saturday’s game at Rupp Arena.
Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman yells to his players during Saturday’s game at Rupp Arena.

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