Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a past president and member of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
LIKE IT IS:
Everything considered, it wasn’t that bad
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson react to a call during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Florida in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013. Florida won 71-54. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)
LITTLE ROCK If you had known that Arkansas’ leading scorer, BJ Young, was going to be held to no field goals by Florida, you probably would have taken the Gators and given up 17 points.
If you had known Marshawn Powell was going to be limited to 3-of-8 shooting and score seven points, you might have mortgaged the house and bet on the best team in the SEC.
There were already a lot of reasons to think the Gators, who lost to the Hogs three weeks ago in Fayetteville, might play their best game of the season Saturday in Gainesville, Fla.
Not only did Florida come into the game undefeated at home, but in Florida, (although a game aboard the USS Bataan against Georgetown was called because the court had too much condensation) and it is trying to regain its standing as a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament.
Give the Razorbacks credit: Even with the Gators focused on stopping Young and Powell, the heart and soul of this team’s scoring, they fought hard and trailed only 32-28 at the half.
But by then it was clear what Florida’s game plan was going to be.
Pound it in the paint.
Florida ended up outscoring the Razorbacks 42-18 inside en route to a 71-54 victory, which was a push for those who bet, except they lost the juice, 10 percent of the bet.
The Hogs, however, can hold their heads up heading into LSU, which is undefeated at home, Wednesday night.
Arkansas out rebounded Florida 41-38, but with four of the five starters held to four field goals on 22 attempts, the bench accounted for 22 points.
It was huge for the Hogs that Coty Clarke, a junior, made 8 of 8 from the field, including his one three-point attempt.
What is obvious is the Razorbacks are better now than they were in January and are better than a year ago when they finished 6-10 in the SEC. They are 8-6 in league play and 17-10 overall.
If the season ended today, they might be an NIT team, but not an NCAA team. But the season doesn’t end today.
The Hogs have four regular-season games and then the SEC Tournament in Nashville, Tenn., but the schedule is close to brutal.
After playing in Baton Rouge, Arkansas returns home Saturday for a sellout game with Kentucky.
Kentucky is trying to bounce back after losing center Nerlens Noel. The Wildcats were blessed with two home games last week and squeaked by Vanderbilt and Missouri.
The 90-83 overtime victory over the Tigers was big because it was a quality victory. Mizzou is a victory or two away from being solidly on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
The Hogs then travel to Missouri, which will be desperate for payback after losing to Arkansas 73-71 in Fayetteville on Feb. 16.
Arkansas closes the regular season at home against Texas A&M, which beat the Hogs 69-51 in the SEC opener.
Even if the Razorbacks sweep the final four games, a very tall order for anyone at this point in the season, Arkansas is going to need a solid showing in the SEC Tournament to have any chance at the real March Madness.
Three regular-season victories and two more in Nashville might be good enough because that would make the Hogs 7-3 in their final 10 games. How a team is playing at the end of the season is part of the formula the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee uses.
And it didn’t hurt the Hogs that they really didn’t get blown out in Gainesville. The odds makers thought it was a 17-point game, and once again, they were right.
Sports, Pages 17 on 02/26/2013