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.
See you later, Gators
Fast start flusters Florida
Arkansas' BJ Young dunks the ball in the second half of the game Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013, against No. 2 Florida at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. Arkansas upset the Gators, 80-69.
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas put an end to Florida’s rampage through the SEC in stunning fashion.
The Gators came into Tuesday night’s game ranked No. 2 nationally behind Indiana but proved to be the second-best team in Walton Arena, where the Razorbacks beat Florida 80-69 before an announced crowd of 13,059 that had plenty of reasons to roar.
“They pretty much just beat us in every facet of the game for the whole entire game,” Florida senior forward Erik Murphy said. “We didn’t come out ready and come out wanting to win the game as bad as they did, which is pretty much all that matters.”
The Razorbacks (14-8, 5-4 SEC) essentially did to the Gators (18-3, 8-1) what Florida had been doing to SEC opponents in winning its first eight conference games by an aver-age of 26.5 points. While the final margin was 11 points, the Razorbacks never trailed and led by as many as 27 points.
“I think we played against an outstanding team, and it was good to see us come out and perform,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said. “I think more than anything else it just tells me that we’re growing up.
“I told people before the season that you’re going to see this team change before your eyes throughout the season. We have taken some lumps, but you can see the growth.”
The Razorbacks beat their their highest-ranked opponent in 14 years, since taking down No. 2 Auburn on Feb. 24, 1999, in Walton Arena, when Anderson was an assistant coach.
“I thought this place was lively tonight,” Anderson said. “It brought back a lot of memories for myself, especially sitting on that bench and just seeing our fans so engaged in the game.”
The Razorbacks started 14 of 18 from the field, including 7 of 9 from behind the three-point line, in jumping out to a 36-13 lead with 9:20 left in the first half. Junior forward Marshawn Powell scored nine points to help fuel the opening run and started it with a three-pointer 38 seconds into the game.
“The level of concentration and focus in the locker room was unbelievable,” Powell said. “Coach didn’t even have to do his usual pep-up talk. We were already ready. It was a big game, and we came to play.”
Beating Florida in dominating fashion was sweet revenge for the Razorbacks, who lost to the Gators 98-68 last season for Arkansas’ most-lopsided loss in Walton Arena’s 23 seasons.
“I had kind of forgot about that one,” Anderson said. “They played well and they shot the lights out of it. I think having a little knowledge of what they are capable of doing - maybe that got our guys kind of amped up to come out and defend, and defend well.”
Florida ranked second nationally in scoring defense, holding opponents to an average of 51.0 points per game, but the Razorbacks came close to matching that in the first half and led 43-26 at halftime.
“Their start just killed us,” Murphy said. “You’ve got to keep grinding, but it’s tough to come back from a lead like that.”
Eight Razorbacks scored seven or more points, led by sophomore guard BJ Young’s 13. Powell and freshman forward Michael Qualls had 11 points each, junior forward Coty Clarke had nine, sophomore forward Hunter Mickelson had eight and junior guard Mardracus Wade and freshman forward Jacorey Williams had seven each.
“This was a total team win,” Anderson said.
The Razorbacks cooled off and finished shooting 49.1 percent from the field (28 of 57), but they held Florida to 41.1 percent (23 of 56), and the Gators had 16 turnovers even though Arkansas rarely used full-court pressure. Instead the Razorbacks focused on shutting down the Gators with half-court defense.
“Our defense was kind of stifling,” Anderson said. “We were where the ball was. The ending part of defense is rebounding the basketball. I thought we did an excellent job of that.”
Arkansas out-rebounded the Gators - who came into the game with a plus-8.4 margin in SEC games - 34-33. Six Razorbacks had at least four rebounds, led by Powell’s six.
“We won most all of the 50-50 balls tonight,” Anderson said. “That tells me they’re playing for the team.”
The Gators, who had their 10-game winning streak broken, were led by senior guard Michael Rosario (15 points) and junior guard Scottie Wilbekin (14 points.)
Florida Coach Billy Donovan lamented some early missed shots by the Gators but said defense was their biggest problem.
“Clearly we did not play the level of defense that we had,” Donovan said. “It was a combination that we didn’t do a very good job, and I thought they did a very, very good job.”
The Gators cut their deficit to 51-37, but Arkansas outscored the Gators 16-3 over a 5:06 span, including six points by Mickelson and a three-point basket by Kikko Haydar, to move ahead 67-40 with 9:37 left.
“Nine minutees ain’t enough time,” Murphy said.
Arkansas improved to 1-2 against top-10 teams this season. The Razorbacks lost to Syracuse 91-82 at Walton Arena and lost at Michigan 80-67.
“If you want to be one of the better teams in the country, then you’ve to beat some of those people,” Anderson said. “You can’t be just playing them. You have got to have a chance to beat them, and tonight was our night.”
Sports, Pages 19 on 02/06/2013