Photo: Kyle Zedaker, LSU Sports Dept.
The bottom line in sports is always winning, and the Arkansas Razorbacks didn’t achieve that last Saturday when they visited Baton Rouge, La., to face a talented but young LSU Tigers basketball team.
With the game tied and the clock running down, Arkansas forward Moses Kingsley maneuvered for solid rebounding position, pushing Tigers forward Victor Craig II out from the basket on Tigers guard Antonio Blakeney’s 3-point attempt.
Had Blakeney’s air ball drawn iron, Craig would’ve likely been out of rebounding position, but with the shot falling so short, Craig knifed his way to the best angle for the ball and his crib shot eventually gave LSU a 76-74 victory.
With just 4.2 seconds on the clock, Arkansas did get a solid look at a long three-pointer, but Arkansas guard Anton Beard’s shot fell well short at the buzzer.
Arkansas had the game in its control going down the stretch, but several poor decisions in a matter of seconds at the three-minute mark allowed LSU to erase a five-point deficit to tie the game at 69.
A sloppy cross-court pass by the Hogs set up a breakaway layup for LSU. Instead of cutting his losses and just allowing the bucket, Beard fouled. The Tigers missed the free throw, but got the offensive rebound and converted a 3-point play after Arkansas forward Trey Thompson’s foul.
The Razorbacks went from being up five to tied at 69 in a matter of seconds. Games turn just that quickly.
Both fouls were bad in those situations, but Beard’s was a reach-in on a layup. That foul is going to be called most of the time even if the strip attempt is clean. It would have been best to just let the layup go, but if a player’s going to foul at that point, it needs to be hard enough to make sure the opponent misses the basket.
Beard, whose moxie and toughness helped the Hogs be in position to win, and Thompson will likely learn from these mistakes. It’s part of the growth process for young players.
The shame of it, though, is that the loss trumps the fact that the Razorbacks played very well on the road in an unfavorable matchup for them. LSU is a long, lean, talented basketball team that is only being held back by its youth. If Johnny Jones can get his team to mature enough to make the NCAA Tournament, there is enough talent in place around freshman phenom Ben Simmons for the Tigers to make a Sweet 16 run.
Going into the game, I didn’t like the Razorbacks’ chances at all. My thinking was that Arkansas’ smallish guards would have a difficult time getting their shots off against the Tigers’ quickness and length.
That proved to be true early, but the Hogs have become a very solid half-court offensive basketball team, and they worked themselves into an even matchup by playing the game well and sharing the ball on the offensive end.
Beard and the other Hog backups were vital in erasing and early LSU lead and for helping keep the Razorbacks ahead most of the game. Though short for a basketball player, Beard is strong and knows how to use his body to shield off shot blockers. He also has improved his shot, but he is still learning to play the game as well with his mind as his body.
The Razorbacks still struggled defensively, although they did do a better job of stopping the ball in transition, which is vital on the road, especially against a team like the Tigers. However, 24 fouls is too many for any game. Arkansas coach Mike Anderson was upset about the disparity in the fouls called. LSU only had 13, but that’s something he’s unable to control.
A strip of the ball off an inbounds play by Simmons appeared to be an uncalled foul late in the game; however, Kingsley either has to be stronger with the basketball in that situation or get it to chest or head level instead of holding it at his waist.
The loss ended the Razorbacks’ winning streak at three and dropped them to 9-8 on the season and 3-2 in SEC play with the Kentucky Wildcats (13-4, 3-2) coming to Walton Arena for a 6 p.m., ESPN-televised contest Thursday.
John Calipari brings in his NBA prep team smarting from a 75-70 loss at Auburn. Calipari is promising change for the game. Whether that means in his lineup or the team’s attitude or both, we’ll just have to see.
The Razorbacks then face a quick turnaround as they travel to Georgia (9-6, 2-3) for a 5 p.m. Saturday, SEC Network-televised contest.
This could be a big week for the Razorbacks. Upsetting Kentucky at home would be huge for this team, but not necessarily surprising. Anderson’s squads have historically played well against the Wildcats.
The Georgia game should be a good contest. It looks like a tossup going into the game. A second road win in conference play would continue to build the Hogs’ resume for an NIT berth.
Dykes’ Razorbacks on a Roll
While the story of the week may be Kentucky’s visit to Walton Arena on Thursday, the hottest team on campus is Jimmy Dykes’ Arkansas women’s team.
The Razorbacks women’s team has knocked off two Top-25 teams in a row with wins over No. 13 Tennessee, 64-59, last Thursday and No. 24 Missouri, 64-52, on Sunday.
Arkansas is still under .500 with a 8-10 record for the season, but Dykes has his Razorbacks at a surprising 3-2 mark in SEC play as the embark on this week’s road swing at LSU at 7 p.m. Thursday and at Auburn for a 3 p.m. SEC Network-televised game Sunday.
Just like with Anderson’s Hogs, it’s encouraging to watch the Lady Razorbacks grow and mature under Dykes in his second season as coach. Dykes’ inherited the backbone of solid squad for his first year as coach and guided that squad two-rounds deep into the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament.
No doubt, he knew the job would be even more challenging in his second season, but Dykes and his squad are proving that hard work pays off.
What I like when I see TV news clips of Dykes is the intensity in his eyes. Intensity was Eddie Sutton’s favorite word when he coached the Razorbacks to national prominence in the 1970s and ’80s. No doubt intensity was drilled into Dykes as a walk-on for Sutton with the Hogs and later as an assistant for him at Kentucky and Oklahoma State.
Dykes has a genial personality and a silky smooth approach with fans and the media, but make no mistake, he is a competitor.
It takes an extremely tough person, mentally and physically, to be a walk-on at major-college program in any sport. The work is hard and for most, the playing time is minimal. Imagine what it would be like to lace ’em up everyday to practice against guys like future NBA guards Darrell Walker and Alvin Robertson, two of the best on-the-ball defenders Arkansas’ program has ever seen.
The world of sports broadcasting is competitive in its own way, too, and through hard work Dykes battled his way to being one of the top college basketball analysts in the field before he decided to get back into coaching at Arkansas.
We are seeing Dykes use that same tenacity and grit in building his basketball program. It’s an ongoing process, and no doubt there will be more setbacks along the tough SEC road this year. But, what I notice is that his players have that same intense look to their eyes that Dykes has.
When a team begins to emulate their coach, it’s clear that they’ve bought into his system or as Nick Saban likes to call it “the process.” That’s usually a good thing. This is a building year for Arkansas’ women’s team, but that structure should pay off in the future.