By LARRY VAUGHT
One big reason Arkansas has won four straight games, including a 19-point win over Texas A&M Saturday, is the play of 6-11 forward Daniel Gafford.
The freshman was 7-for-8 from the field and had 19 points, six rebounds, two assists, two blocked shots and one steal in the win over Texas A&M. He has a team-high 54 dunks this season — one major reason he’s shooting 62 percent from the field.
Kentucky coach John Calipari says Gafford’s length and skill set will pose problem for Kentucky Tuesday night.
“He’s so long and blocking and doing the things that he does, but the biggest thing is he’s not afraid. That’s why, you know, right now he’s averaging 16 or 17 (points) and six (rebounds) the last whatever it is. His numbers are outstanding. He’s one of those guys. When you have someone with that kind of length and that kind of skill set, it’s pretty good stuff,” the UK coach said Monday.
Kentucky assistant coach Joel Justus said that Gafford can “fly” up and down the court in transition.
“Can impact the game when he doesn’t have the ball, but then when he does have it I think he’s got a tremendous package of offensive moves. But I think before we go into any of that, he just plays really, really hard. That’s something that young guys across the landscape of college basketball struggle to do consistently. He’s been a guy that from, what we’ve seen and from what I’ve seen personally, seems to play hard every single play,” Justus said.
Kentucky sophomore forward Wenyen Gabriel understands that UK has to have both focus and energy to start Tuesday night’s game.
“We gotta come out with that same type of energy we had last game just to continue to build on that,” Gabriel said. “Any team in the league can beat you if you go out there and play lackadaisically. I just think you need to come in with focus every game.”
Calipari knows Arkansas will play fast and won’t be afraid to take a lot of 3-point shots. However, he says Gafford is why the Razorbacks are 8-6 in SEC play now after an 0-3 start that included a home loss to LSU.
“The last five games he’s playing his best basketball, which makes them a different kind of team, even though they still have four seniors. They’re experienced. They’re good. They’re a really good basketball team,” Calipari said. “Arkansas is playing as well as they’ve played all year. (They’ve) only lost one home game.”
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A win against UK would make Arkansas the only SEC team to have a five-game league win streak this season. The Razorbacks have a 17.2-point margin of victory at home this season and have outscored opponents by 130 points in the first half. Arkansas has 107 home wins the last seven years — the fourth best total in the nation.