Playing on the road has never been a picnic in college basketball, but the 2012-13 season has underscored a dramatic contrast in teams’ home-versus-away performance.
The disparity is particularly glaring in the Southeastern Conference, where only Florida and Kentucky have a winning record in road games. The Wildcats’ next opponent, Arkansas, could be the poster child for the other side of the coin. The Razorbacks are 16-1 at Bud Walton Arena, but 1-10 when leaving Fayetteville.
Kentucky coach John Calipari said he doesn’t read too much into the split. He knows the Cats (20-8, 11-4 SEC) will have their hands full in Saturday’s 4 p.m. ET game on the Razorbacks’ home floor.
“Well, you have a lot of teams (struggling on the road) and we were there a couple years ago,” Calipari said. “It was hard for us on the road. We were young. It wasn’t that we were playing that bad, we couldn’t finish off games. I think in (the Razoracks’) case they’re a lot of that. Like if you watch a bunch of those games, they had their chances to win. Then all of a sudden, with a minute to go, somebody makes a shot and they don’t.
"They may be more comfortable at home. I don’t know. It happens to a lot of teams, not just them.”
Playing at home empowers Arkansas to be more physical, Calipari said. His guards must be prepared to handle full-court pressure and contact for 40 minutes or more.
Kentucky sophomore point guard Ryan Harrow, who has averaged 15.6 points and dished out 14 assists with only three turnovers during UK’s recent three-game winning streak, said Friday that he feels like the Cats have gotten over the hump since losing Nerlens Noel to a season-ending knee injury.
Calipari, however, isn’t so quick to concur. He suggests this is a prove-it game.
“In college basketball, guard play probably dictates where your team is going,” he said. “Our guards have played better. We have played better. This will be an environment where they will be able to see what they are about.”
The game will be a homecoming for UK freshman guard Archie Goodwin, a Little Rock, Ark., native who chose to sign with the Wildcats over the Razorbacks. He currently leads the team in scoring at 13.8 points per game, but has gone through his share of ups and downs during his first season at UK. Goodwin is shooting only 43 percent from the field, 27 percent from the 3-point line and has a team-high 90 turnovers.
“It will be tough,” Calipari said. “We talked a little bit about it. It is going to be a hard deal for him, but I think he’ll be fine. He may have a couple moments, but he’s had them without being home, where he does some things like, ‘Oh my gosh, what did you just do?’ So I don’t think it’s going to affect him. I just told him you have to keep your head focused on our team. But it’s hard. It will be a hard deal for him.”