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.
Hogs reflect vintage ’90s style
Arkansas guard Fred Gulley III, left, pressures High Point guard Jorge Perez-Laham during the first half of play Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013, in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - High Point Coach Scott Cherry could relate to what his players were experiencing as they struggled to handle the ball against Arkansas’ defensive pressure during an 89-48 loss to the Razorbacks on Saturday night.
Cherry played guard at North Carolina for Coach Dean Smith in the 1990s, when the Tar Heels twice played Arkansas in NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 matchups.
The Razorbacks beat the Tar Heels 96-73 in the Midwest Regional in Dallas in 1990 when Cherry was a freshman.
“They beat the pants off us,” Cherry said.
The Tar Heels tightened their belts the next time the teams played. They edged Arkansas 80-74 in the 1993 East Regional in East Rutherford, N.J., during Cherry’s senior season, and North Carolina went on to win its second national championship under Smith.
Cherry said the way Arkansas played against High Point reminded him of the 1990s teams - when Razorbacks Coach Mike Anderson was an assistant for Nolan Richardson.
“Oh yeah,” Cherry said. “I remember Coach Smith rotating point guards in and out. One guy would go in, turn it over, and he’d put the next one in. If he went in and turned it over, he brought the third one in.
“And I was one of those three, so it was definitely a challenge and very reminiscent of this team.”
High Point had 25 turnovers against the Razorbacks, with 17 coming on steals by Arkansas. Ten Razorbacks had at least one steal.
“A little bit of it was us just not taking care of the ball, not making the right reads, not making the right passes, but they’re really good at what they do,” Cherry said. “They’ve got a lot of guys that they can play, and they can keep that constant pressure up, because they’ve got a lot of fresh bodies on the floor.”
Anderson, in the third season of his return to Arkansas, said he appreciated Cherry’s comparison to an era when the Razorbacks went to the 1990 Final Four, won the 1994 national championship and finished runner-up in 1995.
“I take that as the ultimate compliment,” Anderson said.
Arkansas (10-2) has 12 players averaging between 10 and 25 minutes. Seven of the top eight scorers are players Anderson signed, and he said the Razorbacks are more suited to playing the style he wants than they were the previous two seasons.
“I think we’re getting closer, because I think we’ve got guys that fit what we’re doing,” he said. “I think we’ve got instinctive guys, we have some guys with great motors, guys with toughness, guys that are used to winning.
“No question we’re able to do more things that I like to do. And to have some options, boy, that makes a big,big difference.”
Anderson said it’s important to have a full roster so the Razorbacks can play quality minutes.
“You can’t play at this level the length of time a lot of guys want to play,” he said. “If you look at the minutes, efficiency is what we’re looking for, and guys hopefully are understanding that now.”
In High Point’s previous game to Arkansas, the Panthers lost 75-54 at No. 2 Syracuse, but they led 40-39 early in the first half. The difference, Cherry said, was being to run down the 35-second shot clock against Syracuse’s zone defense.
“I think our average possession in the first half was 27 seconds,” Cherry said. “That allowed us to stay close to Syracuse.
“Arkansas isn’t like that. They don’t allow you to hold onto the ball. They’re constantly pressuring you, they’re constantly forcing you to speed up. They’re constantly forcing you out of your offensive rhythm. You can’t run a lot of sets.”
Cherry was an assistant at South Carolina during the 2008-2009 season, before taking the High Point job.That season, the Gamecocks beat the Razorbacks - in their only meeting - 82-78 in overtime at Columbia, S.C.
Cherry said that Razorbacks team, which went 2-14 in the SEC after starting 12-1, including victories over No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 7 Texas, had talent while playing a different style than Arkansas does now.
These Razorbacks, Cherry predicted, will continue to win when they start playing SEC games.
“Arkansas is going to be really good in the SEC,” Cherry said. “They’ve got a chance, I think, to win a lot of basketball games and play in the postseason.
“They’ve got a lot of interchangeable parts. They can easily play 12 guys and not miss a beat. The talent level doesn’t seem to dip.”Arkansas (10-2) DATE OPPONENT TIME/RESULT Nov. 8 SIU-Edwardsville W, 99-65 Nov. 15 La.-Lafayette W, 76-63 Nov. 18 SMU W, 89-78 Nov. 25 California$ L, 85-77 Nov. 26 Minnesota$ W, 87-73 Nov. 27 Gonzaga$ L, 91-81 Dec. 3 SE Louisiana W, 111-65 Dec. 7 Clemson W, 74-68 Dec. 12 Savannah St. W, 72-43 Dec. 19 Tennessee-Martin W, 102-56 Dec. 21 South Alabama& W, 72-60 Dec. 28 High Point W, 89-48 Jan. 4 Texas-San Antonio 7 p.m.
Jan. 8 at Texas A&M* 8 p.m.
Jan. 11 Florida noon Jan. 14 Kentucky 8 p.m.
Jan. 18 at Georgia* 12:30 p.m.
Jan. 22 at Tennessee* 7 p.m.
Jan. 25 Auburn* 7 p.m.
Jan. 28 Missouri* 6 p.m.
Feb. 1 at LSU* 4 p.m.
Feb. 5 Alabama* 7 p.m.
Feb. 8 at Vanderbilt* 3 p.m.
Feb. 13 at Missouri* 6 p.m.
Feb. 15 LSU 4 p.m.
Feb. 19 South Carolina* 8 p.m.
Feb. 22 at Mississippi State* 3 p.m.
Feb. 27 at Kentucky* 6 p.m.
March 1 Georgia* 3 p.m.
March 5 Ole Miss* 7 p.m.
March 8 at Alabama* 3 p.m.
March 12-16 SEC Tournament Atlanta $ Maui Invitational & Verizon Arena, North Little Rock * SEC game
Sports, Pages 15 on 12/31/2013