No. 4 Kentucky tunes up against slumping Arkansas
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- No. 9 Villanova defeats No. 13 Butler
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Fourth-ranked Kentucky is in a three-way tie for first place in the Southeastern Conference standings.
The Wildcats might also be the hottest team in the league.
Kentucky (23-4, 12-2 SEC) looks to continue the momentum as it seeks to win for the 14th time in the past 15 games when it hosts struggling Arkansas (14-13, 5-9) on Tuesday night in Lexington, Ky.
The Wildcats share the top spot with Tennessee and LSU with four regular-season games to go.
Another showdown with the Volunteers looms on Saturday -- Kentucky won the first encounter by 17 points at home -- but first the Wildcats have to avoid overlooking an Arkansas squad that has lost five straight games.
Kentucky was extra sharp last Saturday when it rolled to an 80-53 home win over Auburn behind a 43-24 rebounding advantage.
The work on the boards was impressive with second-leading rebounder Reid Travis (11.3 points, 6.9 rebounds) sidelined with an injured ankle. Freshman guard Keldon Johnson stepped up by collecting a career-best 17 rebounds.
"We knew we had to make up for Reid's absence, so I knew I had to go in and hit the glass extra hard," Johnson said afterward.
Sophomore forward PJ Washington continued his strong play with 24 points -- the eighth time in 10 games and 10th time overall that he has scored 20 or more points.
Washington, who leads the team in scoring (15.2) and rebounding (7.9), knocked down a career-best five 3-pointers as his all-around game continues to improve.
"Last year, I wouldn't even really shoot 3s, honestly," Washington said after the victory. "Last year, I was just trying to bully people, get to the rim and make layups, and this year I feel like my game has expanded a lot more.
"They were denying me in the post and I was just hitting shots and just kept shooting. They were going in and fortunately we won the game."
Arkansas hasn't done much winning lately, and Saturday's 87-80 home loss to Texas A&M was especially hard to swallow.
The Razorbacks trailed by three with under five minutes to play before the Aggies scored eight straight points to take control. That didn't sit well with sophomore center Daniel Gafford.
"Basically at the end of the game, we let go of the rope, simple as that," Gafford told reporters. "They were coming down and executing everything that they could, they were getting stops on defense, and we were turning the ball over.
"We were trying to fight back but they fought harder."
Arkansas has lost three games by double digits during the five-game slide, including a 23-point setback at Auburn.
The Razorbacks -- who were six games over .500 less than three weeks ago -- are trying to keep their fortunes from sinking further.
"We're basically trying to keep each other up, encourage each other, motivate each other," Gafford said.
Gafford has been superb and leads Arkansas in scoring (16.6), rebounding (8.9), blocked shots (54) and field-goal percentage (66.3).
Guard Isaiah Joe (14.1 points per game) has drained 93 3-pointers, just 10 off the SEC freshman record held by Mississippi's Chris Warren (2007-08). Sophomore guard Mason Jones averages 13.9 points.
The Razorbacks have dropped their last six meetings with Kentucky.
--Field Level Media
Updated February 25, 2019