DOWNTOWN TIP OFF CLUB:

Anderson: UA takes it up notch

By: Jeff Halpern
Published: Saturday, December 21, 2013
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson watches as his Razorbacks defeat UT Martin during the second half of the basketball game in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville on Thursday December 19, 2013.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson watches as his Razorbacks defeat UT Martin during the second half of the basketball game in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville on Thursday December 19, 2013.

Arkansas hasn’t qualified for a postseason tournament in Mike Anderson’s first two seasons as head coach, but he said Friday that his team is closer to where he wants it to be.

“We’re starting to take it to the next level,” Anderson told the Downtown Tip Off Club at the Wyndham Riverfront in North Little Rock. “There’s accountability, and we’re starting to bring in the type of players who are playing for each other.”

Anderson said he was encouraged during the summer when the incoming recruits showed up for both summer sessions even though attendance at only one session was required. He also liked what he saw from players when they worked together during Army-style physical fitness drills.

“We ran into fire ants and Ky Madden started getting them all over him,” Anderson said. “Two years ago he would have quit, but this time he just worked through it and kept going.

“We’re not where we want to be yet, but I like the competition we see in practice. My stance is your position is not safe with me. I’m seeing a lot of players playing at a high level.”

Anderson said he has been pleased with the balanced scoring he is seeing. Four players are averaging at least 10 points a game, led by Michael Qualls with 14.4 points per game. Bobby Portis is averaging 11.7 points, Alandise Harris 11.6 and Madden 10.2.

Eleven Razorbacks played at least 10 minutes Thursday night in Arkansas’ 102-56 victory over Tennessee-Martin in Fayetteville. Four of them had at least 10 points, and Anthlon Bell added nine. Coty Clarke and Portis led the way as both finished with 15 points and nine rebounds.

It was exactly the type of performance Anderson had hoped to see following a 72-43 victory over Savannah State on Dec. 12. Arkansas led just 27-25 at halftime of that game before taking control in the second half.

“When we played Savannah State, I was bored,” Anderson said. “But last night we played a style of basketball that I liked, and we had a lot of guys who worked hard.”

With seven of the team’s first 10 games at home, the challenge now will be taking that type of attitude on the road. Anderson said he hopes the experience the Razorbacks gained from playing in the Maui Invitational, where they went 1-2 with a victory over Minnesota (87-73) and losses to California (85-77) and then-No. 11 Gonzaga(91-81), will pay off when Arkansas hits the road in SEC play.

“The main thing about playing on the road is you need players when adversity happens, they are going to come together and find a way to pull away, and I feel like we’re starting to have that type of leadership necessary to play on the road,” Anderson said. “We had that type of experience in Maui playing three teams that went to the NCAA Tournament a year ago. We learned some lessons which we feel will be beneficial to us.”

The Razorbacks make the lone appearance in central Arkansas tonight when they take on South Alabama at 7 p.m. at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock, and Anderson is eager to for fans in the area to get a chance to watch his team.

“This is a team that continues to get better, and I hope you enjoy them,” he said. “I think the people in central Arkansas will appreciate them when you watch them play.”

Sports, Pages 24 on 12/21/2013

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