Now that the Arkansas Razorbacks have stopped the bleeding from a four-game losing streak with a 70-62 victory over Missouri on Wednesday, can the Hogs build on it?
If building means winning at Texas Tech (15-4, 4-3 Big 12) at 5 p.m. Saturday in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, then probably not. However, if building means improving as a team, maybe that can happen.
Next up for the Razorbacks
Who: at Texas Tech (Big 12/SEC Challenge)
When: 5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26
Where: Lubbock, Texas
Watch: ESPN or ESPN2
Jan. 29 – Georgia
Feb. 2 – at LSU
Feb. 5 – Vanderbilt
Feb. 9 – at South Carolina
Feb. 12 – at Missouri
Feb. 16 – Mississippi State
Feb. 20 – at Auburn
Feb. 23 – Texas A&M
Feb. 26 – at Kentucky
March 2 – Ole Miss
March 6 – at Vanderbilt
March 9 – Alabama
March 13-17 – SEC Tournament
After Arkansas fell behind by 12-2 to Missouri on Wednesday, the Hogs played better basketball, more confident basketball.
A lot of that had to do with the Tigers (10-7, 1-4 SEC) playing like a slap-schtick troop of clowns, turning the ball over 24 times against the Hogs’ press that had largely been ineffective thus far in SEC play.
But, the Razorbacks made the most of those opportunities whether the Tigers gave them away or the Hogs forced them.
Making up a 10-point deficit and then finishing with a 12-point victory has to do something for the Razorbacks’ pride even if it came against one of the SEC’s worst squads.
Confidence is something that was in short supply during the Razorbacks’ losing skid that saw them drop relatively close games to Florida (57-51) and LSU (94-88 OT) at Walton Arena and then suffer blowouts to Tennessee (106-87) and Ole Miss (84-67) on the road.
When the Razorbacks fell behind by double digits to Missouri, “here we go again” ran through my mind like it probably did many others’.
But thanks to the Tigers’ sloppy play and the Hogs’ picking up the tempo, Arkansas erased the deficit about as quick as Missouri built it. Thanks to Daniel Gafford’s high arcing circus shot that hit nothing but net, they trailed just 34-32 at the half.
Gafford played well enough in the game with 13 points and 10 rebounds, but it was freshman Isaiah Joe who turned up the head on the Tigers, sinking 7 of 12 three-pointers and 8 of 13 shots overall to score a game-high 23 points. Without Joe’s marksmanship, I’m not sure the Hogs would have come out of the game on top.
It’s been proven the past two weeks that Arkansas can’t rely on outside shooting to save their bacon game in and game out. Arkansas went into the Missouri game shooting 41 percent from the field, which isn’t going to win a team too many games. The Hogs shot a decent but not great 44 percent to the Tigers’ 45 percent.
The difference was the Tigers turned the ball over 10 more times than the Hogs, 24-14. Certainly, the Razorbacks forced those turnovers, but a better ball-handling team wouldn’t have been so generous.
Coach Chris Beard’s No. 14 Red Raiders are considerably better than Missouri despite Texas Tech’s riding a three-game losing streak. The Red Raiders lost, 68-64, to Iowa State at home; 73-62, at Baylor; and 58-45, at Kansas State in their last three outings.
Anderson likened Texas Tech’s skid to Arkansas’ recent rough patch in the SEC.
“I think they’re in a great league,” the head Hog said. “I mean, we lost four in a row. When you’re in a great league, that can happen. I think Beard’s a good coach, and he has some experienced guys.”
Anderson likes the challenge of pitting SEC squads against the Big 12, and he doesn’t mind going to Lubbock as an underdog.
“SEC-Big 12 Challenge; t’s for conference rights,” Anderson said. “Coach Beard has done a great job of coming in there and establishing a defensive mindset. It’s going to be one of those games where you grind it out. If it’s to their tempo, that definitely favors them.”
As for playing another Top-25 team, Anderson thinks the challenge should motivate his Hogs.
“If you want to be one of the best, you have to play those teams,” Anderson said. “The challenge is, with a young basketball team, you want to make sure they’re playing with confidence.
“That was a big game against Missouri. Our guys have to understand playing against a really good defensive basketball team, you can’t go in there and get off to a slow start.”
The game will feature contrasting styles. Anderson believes the game’s tone will be set by the defense.
“According to scouting reports, they’re going to get out on shooters,” Anderson said. “They want to grind out games. They want the pace to be in the 50’s and 60’s.”
The Razorbacks’ prefer a game in the 80s. How will the Razorbacks attempt to counteract the Red Raiders vaunted half-court defense?
“Play defense ourselves,” Anderson said “Get stops. Get in passing lanes. We have some kids that can play transition basketball, but it starts on the defensive end.”
Anderson knows the Razorbacks will struggle to force an experienced squad like the Red Raiders to run with them.
“At the end of the day, you’re going to have to score some in the half court as well,” Anderson said. “Get to the free throw line. There are a lot of ways to score.”
As always, it’s key how Gafford plays. Will he get touches? Can he stay out of foul trouble? Will he hit his free throws?
Anderson said Gafford is just to relax and have fun playing.
“I just want him to go out and enjoy the game,” Anderson said. “I was watching tape, the shot he had before halftime. I just saw joy in his face. Just enjoying the game and having fun with it.”
Anderson must find a substitution pattern to keep Gafford fresh.
“With fouls, sometimes they call them, sometimes they don’t,” Anderson said. “He can’t let that bother him.. Hopefully we have the opportunity to get Dan some rest. When a player’s tired that’s when the fouls happen.”