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.
Arkansas shows improved depth
Arkansas guard Fred Gulley III (12) passes out of the lane as Southeastern Louisiana guard Dre Evans defends during the first half of play Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013, in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - The first two times Southeastern Louisiana Coach Jim Yarbrough brought his Lions into Walton Arena, they came close to winning.
Arkansas had to rally from a nine-point deficit in the final five minutes of regulation to beat Southeastern Louisiana 91-87 in overtime in the 2008-2009 season opener. Two years ago, the Razorbacks held off the Lions to win 62-55.
“We’ve come up here a couple of times and played pretty well,” Yarbrough said Tuesday night after Southeastern Louisiana’s latest visit to Walton Arena. “I was hoping maybe, just maybe, we could hang around a little bit again.”
Arkansas vs. Clemson
WHEN: 1 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville
TV: Comcast Sports Southeast
The Razorbacks didn’t give the Lions any hope this time.
Arkansas took the lead on senior guard Kikko Haydar’s three-point basket 28 seconds into the game, led by 20 at halftime and kept pouring it on in the second half to beat Southeastern Louisiana 111-65.
Yarbrough said Coach Mike Anderson’s third Arkansas team looks a lot deeper and faster than the first version Southeastern Louisiana faced.
“Two years ago we weren’t even at full strength and we controlled the tempo, and they tried to press us and we just kind of broke it and got behind them,” Yarbrough said. “It’s starting to look like a Mike Anderson team.
“I think the personnel fits him, and that’s so important for any coach, to have personnel that fits your style.”
The Razorbacks showed no signs of having a Hawaiian hangover after they returned home from the Maui Invitational, where they played three games last week, beating Minnesota and losing to California and Gonzaga.
Arkansas shot a season-high 62.3 percent (38 of 61) from the field, forced 24 turnovers and got 63 points from its bench players.
“Did we take some lessons learned from Hawaii? Yes, we did,” Anderson said. “Hopefully, we’ve got a lot of room for improvement and hopefully we can get a lot better.”
Freshman forward Bobby Portis and sophomore forward Michael Qualls led the Razorbacks (5-2) with 16 points each. Seven other Razorbacks scored between six and 15 points and all 14 eligible players had at least one basket.
“We were due for a game like this, where everything kind of clicked on all cylinders,” said Haydar, who had 9 points and 3 assists in 17 minutes in his first start. “It’s good to see the guys that don’t get to play as much get out there and have fun with us.”
No Razorback played more than Qualls, who played 18 minutes. Thirteen Razorbacks played at least nine minutes.
“It was a total team game,” said senior guard Fred Gulley, who had 9 points, 3 assists and 2 steals in 14 minutes. “Everybody got in and got to contribute. It was exciting for everybody. It was what we needed.”
Yarbrough said Arkansas compared favorably to two other SEC teams the Lions lost road games to this season - Missouri by 36 points and LSU by 23 - but the Razorbacks’ defense sets them apart.
“They never let you control the tempo, and you have to be willing to play - if you can - in somewhat of a high-scoring affair, hoping maybe a couple of them will slow down,” Yarbrough said. “They’ve got a lot of depth and a lot of guys who feel confident playing, and that may be their biggest advantage.
“You’ve got to play them for 40 minutes.”
The Razorbacks outscored the Lions 41-9 in points off of turnovers and held Southeastern Louisiana to 34.4 percent shooting (22 of 64).
“It’s nice to hit shots, but it was more about our defense,” Haydar said.
“I think our pressure really got to them, and we were scoring on those opportunities when we got steals,” Gulley said. “We were playing attack basketball. We were the aggressors, we were going to the rim.
“We were being the more physical team, and I think that really helped us with our shooting percentage.”
Yarbrough smiled when asked which Razorbacks impressed him the most.
“They all jumped out at me pretty good, especially when they were flying around,” he said. “They’re obviously a talented team.”
Sports, Pages 18 on 12/05/2013