Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
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Anderson sees growth with Oklahoma victory
NWA Media/ANTHONY REYES -- Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson calls a defensive formation against Oklahoma in the second half Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012 at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks won 81-78.
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas is taking some added confidence into Saturday’s game at No. 3 Michigan instead of a four-game losing streak.
The Razorbacks (4-3) rallied to beat Oklahoma 81-78 Tuesday night in Walton Arena after losing their previous three games to Arizona State and Wisconsin in Las Vegas and at home to No. 5 Syracuse.
“Obviously, we had been on a losing streak, so we needed it pretty bad,” Arkansas guard BJ Young said.
It appeared the Razorbacks might beat Oklahoma by a comfortable margin when they pushed their lead to 53-42 with 16:04 left. But the Sooners (6-2), who entered the game having beaten West Virginia and losing only to No. 10 Gonzaga, kept cutting into the deficit and went ahead 78-77 on Steven Pledger’s three-point basket with 22 seconds left.
Arkansas also blew an 11-point lead in the second half against Wisconsin and lost 77-70.
Having it happen a second time in four games could have been crushing for the Razorbacks, but in the final 15 seconds against Oklahoma they got a driving basket from Young, then a rebound and two free throws by forward Marshawn Powell, followed by him deflecting an inbound pass that foiled Oklahoma’s final shot strategy.
“That’s the growth of this team,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said. “Early in the year we didn’t handle it well. Wisconsin made a run back at us and we didn’t do that. As a matter of fact, we went a different direction. This guy tried to do it. That guy tried to do it.
“But I thought [against Oklahoma] we did it as a team more than anything else. Hopefully, that’s a sign that this team is growing up.”
Powell, coming back from knee surgery, scored a careerhigh 33 points and made 11 of 17 shots, including 4 of 6 three-pointers.
“I’m glad to see it,” Anderson said. “I think the first two or three games, he really struggled to get into a rhythm. I just think he is getting in a better rhythm, and the way we play, I think it fits him. It’s tailor-made for him. He just looks so much more relaxed. He is intense, but he is relaxed.”
Powell had the 110th game for Arkansas in which a player scored 30 or more points. It was the first since Young had 31 points against Florida last season and the most points for a Razorback since 2009, when Rotnei Clarke scored 51 points in the season-opener.
“I knew how Marshawn was going to play,” said Pledger, who was Powell’s AAU teammate in Virginia “ I knew he was itching to get back on the court because he was out all last year.”
Arkansas doesn’t have any seniors. Powell is the oldest player as a redshirt junior, and he made sure to take a leadership role after the Syracuse game, when the Razorbacks pushed the Orange before losing 91-82. In the postgame locker room, he offered encouraging words to every teammate.
“We’ve got a bunch of young guys and everybody was hanging their heads and thinking the season is over because we lost one game,” Powell said. “It’s too long a season and we have plenty more games to play, plenty more big-time competition to play. We have plenty of chances to make ourselves better, so that’s what I told them.”
Anderson said during the Razorbacks’ three-game losing streak he could see his team getting better, but confidence can become shaken when the losses begin to mount.
“I think you build confidence by winning,” Anderson said. “You can play and be in games and almost … but almost doesn’t get it done. To see our guys actually finish out a game — and obviously we want to finish out in a finer fashion — but the bottom line is you find a way to win.
“I think our guys learned a little more about themselves.”
Sports, Pages 22 on 12/07/2012