Tough stretch helping Hogs

By: Bob Holt
Published: Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson argues a call during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Photo by The Associated Press
Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson argues a call during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

— Arkansas’ men’s basketball team shouldn’t be fazed playing home-and-home games against No. 5 Florida and No. 12 Missouri or when defending national champion Kentucky visits Walton Arena during the SEC schedule.

The Razorbacks (4-4) already have played two teams ranked among the top four in this week’s Associated Press poll. They lost to No. 4 Syracuse 91-82 at home Nov. 30 and lost 80-67 at No. 3 Michigan last Saturday.

Arkansas played competitively in both games. The Razorbacks were within six points of the Orange with 6:46 left and cut the Wolverines’ lead to a point with 8:48 left.

“It’s been tough, and while we haven’t won either of these, it’s definitely going to help us in the SEC,” Arkansas junior forward Marshawn Powell said. “We were in these games, and we’ve learned how much one possession can mean in a game — especially in someone else’s house.”

Playing Syracuse and Michigan was part of a five-game stretch for Arkansas that also included games against Arizona State and Wisconsin at Las Vegas and a home game against Oklahoma.

The Razorbacks went 1-4 in the stretch, their only victory coming over Oklahoma 81-78. But Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said he saw steady improvement.

“You look around the country, not a lot of teams are playing the type of teams we’re playing, and with the young players we have,” Anderson said. “I told our guys this schedule was probably an injustice to them, but at the same time, it’s going to pay off for us.”

Michigan took a 13-point lead in the first half, but the Razorbacks weren’t rattled in a game televised nationally by CBS.

“Our guys wouldn’t go away, and I thought I saw them grow up a little bit more in front of a national audience,” Anderson said. “Not only just the people here in the arena, but the nation got a chance to see what this team is capable of doing.

“We’ve just got to be more consistent in what we do and clean up some things, especially rebounding. But I just think we’ve got some pieces, and if you watch our team, those pieces are coming together a little bit more and more.”

Powell, back this season from knee surgery, had 19 points against Syracuse, a career-high 33 against Oklahoma and 18 at Michigan after struggling with foul problems in the Arizona State and Wisconsin games.

“I feel real good,” Powell said. “My teammates are putting me in good places to score, and my coaches have confidence in me.”

Sophomore g uard BJ Young is averaging 18.0 points per game to rank second in the SEC, but his nine points at Michigan were fifth on the team behind Powell, junior guard Kikko Haydar (careerhigh 13), junior guard Rickey Scott (10) and sophomore forward Hunter Mickelson (10)

Haydar, a walk-on who came into the game averaging 1.0 point per game, hit 4 of 4 three-pointers in 19 minutes off the bench.

Michigan Coach John Beilein said after the game Haydar wasn’t on the Wolverines’ scouting report.

“What a great story that a young man is, a walk-on and has a game like that playing on CBS,” Beilein said. “I don’t know if he’s been doing that every day in practice or if it just happened, but I applaud Mike for putting him in there.

“He was a bit of a difference-maker for a while. For a kid to sit on the bench and then come off and make shots like that was impressive. If he can do that all year he’ll help Arkansas a lot.”

The Razorbacks’ next game is against Alcorn State at 7 p.m. Saturday in Walton Arena. They don’t have any games during the week because of final exams.

Anderson is hopeful junior guard Fred Gulley, who transferred from Oklahoma State in January, will be eligible to play against Alcorn State. Gulley can play after the first semester ends, but all of his grades need to be posted before Saturday night’s game.

Gulley, a former Fayetteville High School standout, has been practicing with the Razorbacks all season.

Sports, Pages 22 on 12/12/2012