Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
Anderson keeps defense on leash
Arkansas' Coty Clarke (4) dunks during the second half an NCAA college basketball game against No. 2 Florida in Fayetteville, Ark., Tuesday Feb. 5, 2013. Arkansas won 80-69. (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson)
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas reversed two key trends against Florida on Tuesday, and largely because of that the Razorbacks celebrated their first victory over a No. 2 team in 14 years.
Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson decided to shelve the Hogs’ full-court pressure for the night, and the decision seemed to amplify the intensity of their half-court defense.
The Razorbacks also shook off half a conference season’s worth of poor three-point shooting to gouge the Gators with a run of long-range shots in the first half of an 80-69 upset before a rowdy crowd of 13,059 at Walton Arena.
Forward Marshawn Powell stepped out beyond the three-point line to open the scoring just 38 seconds into the game. Mardracus Wade added two more three-pointers for a 9-2 lead, and by that point the Razorbacks had equaled or exceeded their three-point total from half of their first eight league games.
“This is our house, so we’re used to shooting in it,” Powell said. “I feel like it’s up to me to score the first basket to set the tone any way I can. ... That’s what I tried to do, and everybody followed in line.”
Arkansas led 43-26 at halftime, and had made 7 of 13 three-pointers (53.9 percent) for its best three-point shooting half of the year.
“We’re a better shooting team than the stats had shown,” Anderson said.
The Razorbacks entered shooting 24.2 percent from three-point range and hurt the Gators with an 8-of-18 performance (44.4 percent).
“It was their night,” Florida guard Kenny Boynton said. “Honestly, we expected it. It wasn’t surprising at all. We knew coming in, being first in the SEC, having a new ranking, teams are going to give their best shots at us. … I give them credit.”
Florida Coach Billy Donovan said he was well aware of Arkansas’ three-point struggles but had emphasized the importance of guarding against the three-pointer anyway.
“Coach told us the three-point line was key before the game, and we didn’t really take heed to his word,” Florida forward Erik Murphy said.
“It’s always hard when you have a team not shooting the ball particularly well, that it starts weighing on everybody,” Donovan said. “I’m sure Mike instilled confidence in them to just keep shooting the ball.
“I thought we did a poor-job of letting them shoot the ball with their feet set and not really having our hands up at all.”
Michael Qualls hit Arkansas’ fourth three-pointer from the right wing on a pass from BJ Young to give the Razorbacks a 19-8 lead that would never drop to fewer than 10 points.
Young added two three-pointers around one by Jacorey Williams, who was essentially dared into taking the long-range shot, and when Williams tipped in a missed Powell layup at the 9:21 mark, Arkansas led 36-13 at the end of a 22-5 run.
Anderson’s tactic to dial back the Hogs’ full-court pressure paid huge dividends, as Florida struggled to 29 percent shooting in the first half and 41.1 percent shooting for the game. In the Gators’ 98-68 rout of Arkansas at Walton last year, Florida shot 58 percent from the field, 56.5 percent from three-point range and dissected the full-court pressure with precision ball movement to create open shots.
“I didn’t think they were going to press as much,” Donovan said. “I didn’t think they wanted to open up the floor, give us open threes and those things.”
Anderson said he thought the game would be up-tempo regardless of whether Arkansas pressed all the way up the floor, so he told the Hogs to guard hard in the half-court.
“We didn’t press, but our press was our half-court defense,” Anderson said. “I thought the difference in the game was our energy on defense. Our defense kind of took them out of what they wanted to do.”
Sports, Pages 22 on 02/06/2013