Arkansas sophomore guard C.J. Jones / Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com
The Arkansas Razorbacks spotted Colorado State an 11-point lead Tuesday night, but awoke from that early haze after a media timeout and a switch in personnel.
The move by Arkansas coach Mike Anderson prompted a decisive 24-3 run that turned the game around, after the Razorbacks trailed 13-2 with 15:09 to play in the first half.
The trio of freshmen Daniel Gafford, Darius Hall, and sophomore C.J. Jones ignited the Razorbacks’ pilot light and turned up the heat on the Rams with better defensive play, which led to improved offense.
Once in the game, Gafford swatted a shot on one end of the floor, and slammed home a dunk at the other end to get the Hogs’ scoring party started. Hall splashed in two 3-pointers in the run, with Jones also contributing 6 points in the run
From there the Hogs (6-2) cruised to a 92-66 victory against the Rams (4-5).
Rams’ coach Larry Eustachy said in the postgame interview that there was just too much Arkansas, and that was true; however, the Rams are a young squad and didn’t know how to fight back once the Razorbacks evened the score.
CSU junior guard Prentiss Nixon was the only Ram equipped to run with the Razorbacks. He scored 31 of the CSU’s 66 points.
Jones and senior guard Jaylen Barford led the Hogs with 19 points apiece, and Gafford added 14 points but also stuffed his stat sheet with 6 rebounds and 2 blocked shots.
It was a rousing victory for the Razorbacks, particularly coming off a 91-65 loss at Houston last Saturday, but Arkansas’ slow start against the Rams remains troublesome.
The Hogs started slow last Saturday and never caught up to the Cougars. Had the Razorbacks faced a better, tougher, more experienced opponent Tuesday night, Hog fans might have seen a very different ballgame.
Even Eustachy alluded to that. He said he had teams in the past that would have thrived playing at the Razorbacks’ pace, and added that he looked forward to Arkansas making a return trip to Fort Collins, Colo., next year.
He made the statement without anger. In fact, he thanked Anderson for signing the home-and-home series, saying that the Rams had difficulty getting return trips from other Power 5 programs.
The Razorbacks have the makings for what could be a good basketball team this season. We’ve seen glimpses of that during the first month of the season, but we’ve all seen tougher, more experienced teams make them wilt. Houston and North Carolina’s 87-68 thumping of the Hogs in the PK-80 event are examples.
The only “tough” games that the Hogs have won were the 92-83 victory over Oklahoma (6-1) in their PK-80 opener and an 83-75 against Fresno State (7-2) on Nov. 17.
We still don’t know how rugged this Razorback team is. Tuesday night was a good sign that the squad can take an early punch to the gut and fight their way back against an inexperienced opponent. But, what about an actually good team? So far, the results have been mixed to not very good.
The way the Razorbacks play, they are going to have runs, but so will their opponents. What happens when a good team race out to a 10-point lead? Can the Hogs come back?
Will those games continue to go like it did against Houston or North Carolina?
What’s going to happen in close games?
By the last fourth of the 2016-17 season, Arkansas began to play well in pressure-cooker games. They have to do that earlier this season if they want to avoid the NCAA bubble balancing act they faced last season.
Grit is an odd commodity, though. Some players are born with it, and when you have a leader or leaders with that form of raw toughness, it can transfer to his teammates.
Other teams develop toughness through experience. Win enough and learn enough from the losses and the mistakes, and a team gets tougher and more savvy.
Through eight games, it appears the Hogs might once again be in the latter category. The Razorbacks may have to take some more lumps and learn more the hard way before the final product is forged.
That’s O.K. As long as the Hogs improve along the way and win enough games to make it into the NCAA Tournament, they’ll have a shot of making some noise in March Madness.
But good teams don’t flirt with disaster like the Hogs did Tuesday night, allowing an inferior opponent to take an 11-point lead on the Razorbacks’ home turf.
Good teams don’t forget their identity. They know that defensive intensity is what leads to offensive ecstasy.
Good teams don’t play with their food. They devour it.
The Razorbacks are a better team than they showed last Saturday at Houston and in the first five minutes Tuesday night against Colorado State. It’s a shame they didn’t show it.
Saturday the Razorbacks have another great opportunity to make a statement about who they really are when No. 14 Minnesota (8-1) visits Bud Walton Arena for a 5:45 p.m. clash to be televised by the SEC Network.
It’s Arkansas’ last chance of making a definitive statement against a Top 20-opponent until they get into SEC play on Dec. 30. They open at home against Tennessee (6-1), which is currently ranked No. 24.
Saturday night is a big opportunity for the Razorbacks, and they don’t need to waste a minute of that basketball game. If they do, the Hogs might not be able to fight their way back in the game.
Minnesota is a battle-tested and talented team. It will take more than just one run to defeat Golden Gophers. It’s going to take 40 minutes of hell.
I’m looking forward to finding out if the Hogs have that in them just yet.