Hogs newcomers get chance to shine

By: Nate Allen
Published: Monday, December 17, 2012
Jacorey Williams goes up for a shot during the Razorbacks' 97-59 win over Alcorn State on Saturday.
Photo by Jason Ivester
Jacorey Williams goes up for a shot during the Razorbacks' 97-59 win over Alcorn State on Saturday.

— Freshman reserve point guard Dee Wagner played so well off the bench against nationally No. 4 Syracuse that Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson started him against Oklahoma.

That start came to a quick stop.

“He looked like a freshman,” Anderson explained.

Wagner played just six minutes in the Razorbacks’ 81-78 victory over Oklahoma. He played 23 minutes in the 91-82 loss to Syracuse with 6 points, 3 assists 1 steal and no turnovers.

Wagner never budged off the bench when the Razorbacks lost 80-67 at No. 3 Michigan on Dec. 8 before breaking for the UA’s fall semester final exams that concluded Thursday.

So for talented but up-and-down rookies Wagner and forward Michael Qualls, Saturday night’s apparently unimportant 97-59 frosting of cupcake Alcorn State at Walton Arena was actually very important.

Instead of yanking them quickly like Anderson had to do when Wagner, Qualls, forward Jacorey Williams and shooting guard Anthlon Bell went through various freshmen will be freshmen phases as Arkansas played powers Arizona State, Wisconsin, Syracuse, Oklahoma and Michigan, Saturday’s game enabled the coach to play the rookies for extended periods through mistakes.

Obviously the mistakes came few. Not only did Arkansas win by 38, which included leading 53-24 in the first half, the Razorbacks shared the wealth. Arkansas totaled 24 assists while playing 14 players, including 13 ranging from 13 to 23 minutes.

The 13 scored at least three points each, although that didn’t score highest with Anderson.

“I don’t think it was just about the scoring,” Anderson said. “Dee Wagner was disruptive, three steals and three assists in the first half. Michael Qualls [10 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, 1 blocked shot and no turnovers in 15 minutes] was running the floor, blocking shots and rebounding the basketball. He did the same thing in the second half.”

Williams had 7 points and 6 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1 steal and 1 assist to show for 16 minutes.

Bell nailed a three providing Arkansas its first five-point lead when Alcorn State was still making a game of it almost midway into the first half.

Junior college transfer forward Coty Clarke and Fayetteville’s Fred Gulley also benefited off the bench. Clarke scored 14 points, and Gulley, who already has experienced big time basketball after playing two years at Oklahoma State before transferring, saw his first action in a Razorbacks game after sitting out two semesters as mandated by NCAA transfer rules.

“The only way they are going to get experience is by playing,” Anderson said. “A lot of guys got a lot of minutes. This game allowed me to get those guys some seasoning.”

It also provided a dress rehearsal for that what-if game should sophomore BJ Young not score big when the Razorbacks need it.

The Hogs didn’t need their customary scoring machine to score big against Alcorn State, so he took just five shots while dealing out three assists.

“Obviously BJ is very important to what we do, but maybe there will be some nights he won’t be scoring,” Anderson said. “So who are those other guys that can step up? That’s what a team is all about.”

Sports, Pages 16 on 12/17/2012