Rob Dillingham sparks a Kentucky basketball comeback. Cats avoid Arkansas upset in Rupp.

That was a close one for the Kentucky Wildcats.

Down by as many as nine points in the second half, UK recovered at the end to manage a 111-102 victory over a struggling Arkansas Razorbacks team in Rupp Arena.

The result gave Kentucky its first three-game winning streak since SEC play began in January.

Antonio Reeves led the Cats with 22 points, D.J. Wagner added 19 points, Aaron Bradshaw had his best game in months with 15 points, and Rob Dillingham made a number of big plays in the final minutes.

A 10-point Kentucky lead early in the second half turned into a nine-point advantage for the Razorbacks over a span of less than 10 minutes, with Arkansas outscoring the Wildcats 34-15 during that stretch to go up 84-75 with 9:06 left.

Dillingham’s clutch play down the stretch helped Kentucky get the win.

His and-one play to narrow Arkansas’ lead to 88-87 electrified a Rupp Arena crowd that had been relatively passive all afternoon. His drive a minute later put the Cats ahead 91-90. Trailing again, Dillingham drove and hit Justin Edwards for an alley-oop dunk to put UK up 93-92. He then made two free throws of his own to push the Wildcats’ lead to 95-92. A short time later — just two seconds after the final TV timeout — Dillingham found Zvonimir Ivisic for an alley-oop dunk to give UK a 97-92 advantage.

Arkansas never led again.

Dillingham finished with 15 points and five assists. He had 11 points and four assists in the final 6:47 of the game. Kentucky outscored Arkansas 30-14 in that span.

Points were hard to come by when these two teams met in Fayetteville on Jan. 27.

At the second TV timeout of that game — ultimately a 63-57 UK victory — Arkansas led the visiting Wildcats 9-4. At the second TV timeout Saturday, the Wildcats were up 22-19, a much different flow in the rematch.

The Hogs made 15 of their first 21 shots from the field, but they never led by more than four points in the first half. The Wildcats benefited from more trips to the line, getting eight free throws (and making all of them) before Arkansas attempted its first free throw of the game.

UK also went on a 15-3 run late in the half — and made its final five shots from the field before halftime — turning a four-point deficit into an eight-point lead in the last minute of the period.

The Cats improved to 21-8 overall and 11-5 in the SEC with the victory. Arkansas dropped to 14-15 overall and 5-11 in the league with the loss. The Razorbacks entered the game at No. 121 in the KenPom ratings, ahead of only Missouri and Vanderbilt among SEC teams.

Arkansas was picked to finish third in the SEC in the preseason poll. (UK was picked fourth.)

Kentucky had all of its scholarship players available Saturday for just the second time in 29 games this season. Tre Mitchell returned to the rotation after missing the Wildcats’ last four games following an injury early in the second half against Ole Miss last month.

Mitchell, who had started all 22 of the games he’d played in for the Cats this season, came off the bench against the Razorbacks, and John Calipari had said last week that he would ease Mitchell back into the rotation when he was ready to return.

Calipari stuck with the starting lineup of Wagner, Reeves, Justin Edwards, Adou Thiero and Ugonna Onyenso. He inserted Mitchell, Sheppard, Dillingham and Zvonimir Ivisic into the game before the first TV timeout.

Bradshaw started the second half in place of Onyenso after scoring 12 points, grabbing three rebounds and going 4-for-4 from the field in seven first-half minutes.

Kentucky guard Rob Dillingham (0) passes the ball around the Arkansas defense during Saturday’s game at Rupp Arena. Silas Walker/
Kentucky guard Rob Dillingham (0) passes the ball around the Arkansas defense during Saturday’s game at Rupp Arena. Silas Walker/

Kentucky’s next game

The Wildcats will be back in Rupp Arena on Wednesday night for the final home game of the 2023-24 season, a Senior Night matchup with Vanderbilt (9 p.m. on SEC Network).

The Commodores entered Saturday with an 8-20 overall mark and a 3-12 record league record going into their 3:30 p.m. tipoff against LSU in Nashville. They beat Arkansas 85-82 in Fayetteville earlier in the week but had lost three straight and five of their past six games — all those defeats by double digits — before beating the Hogs.

Kentucky defeated Vanderbilt 109-77 in Nashville on Feb. 6, and the Commodores are the worst-rated team in the SEC at No. 192 nationally in the KenPom rankings.

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