As the coaches turn, Hawgball bounces in

By: Wally Hall
Published: Sunday, December 9, 2012
Clockwise: Bret Bielema (Arkansas), Butch Jones (Tennessee), Mark Stoops (Kentucky) and Gus Malzahn (Auburn) were hired to SEC programs this off-season.
Photo by The Associated Press
Clockwise: Bret Bielema (Arkansas), Butch Jones (Tennessee), Mark Stoops (Kentucky) and Gus Malzahn (Auburn) were hired to SEC programs this off-season.

— Last week might have been one of the craziest, most exciting football weeks the state has seen.

On Tuesday it was learned that Arkansas had hired Bret Bielema away from Wisconsin to be the head coach of the Razorbacks; less than two hours later it was announced that Gus Malzahn was leaving Arkansas State for Auburn.

ASU’s last two coaches have stayed one season and left for an SEC school, and one of the biggest concerns for Red Wolves officials is getting a coach who will stay and, of course, win.

There is no disputing what Hugh Freeze and Malzahn brought to the ASU campus. It was an excitement that spread throughout the Red Wolf Nation.

Which was why there was a ripple of excitement and concern when rumors, which had some legs, began to spread that there were talks between ASU and Bobby Petrino, the former Razorbacks coach.

No one knows how far it got, but one sticking point might have been a three-year contract with a big buyout.

While that was going on, Bielema was doing every radio show he could. When he wasn’t on the air he was on the phone, calling to introduce himself to people.

As the hours turned into days, people began to accept him more and more and to see why Jeff Long had been interested in the Badgers’ head coach.

It no longer matters whether he was first choice or not; he was chosen. It also needs to be reiterated - because some Oklahoma State insiders seem shocked the Hogs would have been interested - that Mike Gundy was never made an offer.

Bielema might have been ready to get out of Wisconsin, although he might never admit that. It seems he was viewed by some as an outsider because he was from Illinois and played for Iowa, both rivals of the Badgers.

By the end of Friday, Bielema had convinced the country, or most of it, that when he wrote Long a letter applauding the way Long handled the dismissal of Petrino, it was not a fishing expedition but simply that the new head coach has an old practice of reaching out with notes to people he meets or is impressed by.

By Saturday, it was time to turn some attention to the Arkansas Razorbacks basketball team.

The Hogs were at Michigan, which is undefeated and No. 3 in the nation, which might be a little high right now. But the Wolverines are a disciplined, well-coached team that came at the Razorbacks hard and fast in the first half.

The Hogs’ half-court defense didn’t adjust in the opening half, Hunter Mickelson got in some foul trouble, and it appeared the Wolverines might blow out the Hogs.

Michigan led 42-32 at the half, but Mike Anderson had a heart-to-heart with his Hogs in the locker room. They came out attacking on both ends of the court and pulled to within 54-53 before suffering a series of missed shots, fouls and turnovers.

It was still a seven-point game with six minutes to play, and that’s when experience and being at home kicked in for the Wolverines. They pulled away for an 80-67 victory.

Even in defeat it was obvious the Hogs are better than last season. A lot of that has to do with having Marshawn Powell, who is back and led the way in scoring with 18. But it is obvious one season of experience with Hawgball has paid off.

It is always going to be hard to win when you get out rebounded 39-20, but rebounding was just one of the problems. Shooting only four free throws to the opponents’ 18 is never good. BJ Young didn’t have a good game, but Rickey Scott and Kikko Haydar- who was 4 of 4 on three-pointers - provided big minutes off the bench, scoring and hustling on defense.

What Anderson and the Hogs have to do is build off this game. They are better and, barring injury, will continue to improve.

Sports, Pages 21 on 12/09/2012