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.
Arkansas ready to step forward
NWA Media/ANDY SHUPE -- Arkansas sophomore guard BJ Young (11) speaks with coach Mike Anderson Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013, during the second half of play against Delaware State in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas and Vanderbilt lost their SEC openers this week, but the similarities end there.
Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson is questioning his team’s toughness and its ability to grasp the urgency of the SEC schedule following a 69-51 loss Wednesday at Texas A&M. Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings gushed over his team’s effort while rallying from a 16-point deficit to take the lead against defending national champion Kentucky on Thursday before losing 60-58.
“The one thing is, we’re not going to panic,” Anderson said. “I mean, if you look at the progress this team has made up until this point, we’re going in the right direction. We took a step back.”
Stallings said the Commodores competed with “complete, unabashed, just all-out total give it all up for my teammates and fans” effort in the home loss to Kentucky.
Arkansas (9-5, 0-1) vs. Vanderbilt (6-7, 0-1)
WHERE: Bud Walton Arena
WHEN: 5:05 p.m.
The Razorbacks (9-5, 0-1 SEC) had an extra day to prepare for the Commodores (6-7, 0-1), who lost standouts John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor, Festus Ezeli and point guard Brad Tinsley off last year’s SEC Tournament championship team.
“Everybody will say, well, they’ve got no chance now at Arkansas,” Stallings said. “How are they going to bounce back from this emotional loss? This is a character check.”
Arkansas is also in selfcheck mode after being outrebounded 51-27 at Texas A&M and making just 3 of 15 from behind the three-point line and 4 of 15 from the freethrow line.
“I think we’ll bounce back,” guard BJ Young said after the loss. “This was just an ugly game for us. We just didn’t do the things we had to do to win on the road.”
Arkansas’ big men struggled against the Aggies. Front court starters Marshawn Powell and Hunter Mickelson combined for 7 rebounds and 4 points in 38 minutes. Powell, who was limited to 12 minutes because of foul trouble, did not score for only the second time in his career.
“Hopefully, he’ll find his stride,” Anderson said. “He’s been pretty good so far this year, and now SEC play is here, we want him to be even better. I think he wants to, and I thought in the second half that’s what you saw. He was trying too hard.”
Stallings said Arkansas is vastly different at Walton Arena.
“Honestly, to watch film on them is almost useless when they’re on the road when you’re going to play at their place,” Stallings said. “They are a confident team at home. With their style, it’s a style that is unique and generally they are allowed to be more aggressive at home, and so you have to play through some of that.”
The Razorbacks managed seven offensive rebounds and edged Texas A&M 20-19 on the Aggies’ offensive end to fall into 13th place in rebounding margin (minus 0.9) in the SEC. The only SEC team with a poorer rebound margin is Vanderbilt, which is at minus-1.8 per game.
The Commodores are also uncharacteristically bad at the free-throw line, with their 57.6 percent shooting also ranking last in the league. Arkansas, despite its abysmal 26.7 percent free-throw shooting at Texas A&M, ranks seventh in the SEC at 68.6 percent.
Arkansas’ three-point shooting will be challenged tonight. Vanderbilt used a 2-3 zone defense to great effect in its comeback against Kentucky.
“They’ll play some zone, they’ll mix it up,” Anderson said.
That could lead to Arkansas freshman Anthlon Bell seeing more playing time against the Commodores. Bell has made 7 of 12 three-point shots in the past two games, five more than any other Razorback.
“Of all the guys right now, when you talk about shooting the basketball, he’s catching it ready to shoot,” Anderson said. “So now, with just more repetition and getting some playing time, hopefully he can be a weapon that can open up the floor for our guys.”
Sports, Pages 19 on 01/12/2013