LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - It was a forgettable return to Rupp Arena for an "Unforgettable" Kentucky alumnus.
John Pelphrey wore a Razorback red tie as he led his Arkansas team into the gym where he donned Kentucky blue as a college standout, but Kentucky spoiled the homecoming with a 63-58 victory Saturday.
"I knew there was going to be a flood of memories and emotions go through me when I got back in the building," Pelphrey said. "I found it really weird, holding my daughter's hand coming in. There's a lot of memories, but it doesn't get in the way of the job we're trying to get done."
Pelphrey's return aside, it was a critical conference game for both programs hoping to sneak into the NCAA tournament.
Kentucky (15-10, 9-3) remained a perfect six-for-six in Southeastern Conference home games and sits two games behind No. 2 Tennessee for the top record in the East. Arkansas (18-8, 7-5) failed to make up ground on West-leading Mississippi State.
Pelphrey, a Kentucky native who was a fan favorite as a member of Rick Pitino's "Unforgettables" team that lost to Christian Laettner and Duke in the 1992 NCAA regional final, received a standing ovation from the crowd as he made his entrance through the tunnel.
During introductions, the reception was even more boisterous, as Pelphrey's retired No. 34 from his college days was shown on the video screen.
And the Arkansas players nearly pulled this one out for their first-year coach.
Midway through the second half, Kentucky had trailed by as many as 7 points, but the Wildcats clawed back to regain the lead down the stretch.
First, a fade jumper by Joe Crawford tied the game at 55-55 with just over two minutes left. Then, an almost identical fade by Ramel Bradley a minute later gave the Wildcats the lead for good.
"We don't work on those shots," Bradley said with a grin. "Those are those shots you work on in the backyard or when nobody's in the gym. Those are the lucky shots."
And luck certainly seemed to shine on the Wildcats, who shot just 40 percent from the floor - a number that could have been much uglier if not for some fortunate bounces around the rim.
Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie acknowledged his team can shoot that way and still win, but he'd prefer it not happen much.
"I think our team has become well equipped enough to do that," Gillispie said. "But I would like to shoot 56 percent some time and play the same level of defense."
Bradley and Crawford led Kentucky with 18 points apiece.
"It came down to making one-on-one plays," Crawford said. "That's what I did, and it's what Ramel did."
During long stretches, it seemed the Razorbacks' only hope was SEC player of the year candidate Sonny Weems, who had 26 points - two shy of his career high. Arkansas' other big-name star, Patrick Beverley, was limited to just 6 points.
Down 29-28 early in the second half, Arkansas regained the lead with a 3-pointer by Weems, and he wasn't finished there. He chased down a loose ball just before it bounced out of bounds, then tiptoed the sideline and sprinted to the basket for a fastbreak dunk.
The Wildcats dominated the rebounding battle 37-24 behind freshman Patrick Patterson, who had 11 rebounds to go along with his 14 points for his sixth double-double of the season.
"We just wanted to put our man on our back and go straight for the ball," Patterson said of the team's rebounding success. "We wanted them more than they did."
At several points in the game, the Wildcats found momentum - and crowd support - when they needed it most.
Kentucky trailed the first 13 minutes of the game and was behind 20-16 when Crawford nailed a 3 to cut the deficit to 1.
An Arkansas turnover on the ensuing inbound pass gave Kentucky the ball right back. That's when Derrick Jasper gave Kentucky its first lead with one of several ugly Kentucky shots on the afternoon that went in.
Jasper's first jumper was blocked, but he caught the deflection and heaved a prayer toward the basket while falling to the floor. Not only did the shot go in, putting the Wildcats ahead 21-20, but Jasper drew a foul from Vincent Hunter.
The free throw was no good, but the Rupp Arena crowd was awakened and didn't seem to slumber again the rest of the game.
"Tonight if we don't have the home crowd like we did, we don't win," Gillispie said.