It’s no chest-thumper, but it beats defeat

By: Wally Hall
Published: Sunday, January 13, 2013
NWA MEDIA/SAMANTHA BAKER -- Arkansas coach Mike Anderson instructs his players Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, during the second half of game against Vanderbilt at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Photo by Samantha Baker
NWA MEDIA/SAMANTHA BAKER -- Arkansas coach Mike Anderson instructs his players Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, during the second half of game against Vanderbilt at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

— There are few chances to get quality victories once conference play begins in the SEC.

Texas A&M, which handled the Arkansas Razorbacks on Wednesday, grabbed one of those Saturday by beating Kentucky at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. The other chances for quality victories come against Florida, Missouri and maybe Mississippi, which is much better than expected.

Arkansas and Vanderbilt were looking to avoid a bad loss Saturday. With the way Vandy played for 40 minutes, and the way the Hogs played in the first 20 minutes, there wasn’t a lot of quality to be found at Walton Arena, but the Hogs finished strong for a much-needed SEC victory.

It took a strong second half, which was ignited whenBJ Young scored the Hogs’ first 12 points, to get the Razorbacks into a run-and stun mode. Then it was the man of the night, the guy who allowed the Hogs to have a 10-point lead at the break, who stepped up big.

In 13 seconds, Marshawn Powell hit a three-pointer and stole the inbound pass and put it in for a 38-17 lead, and for the first time the Hogs looked ready to dominate a mildly talented Vanderbilt team that looked like a retired heavyweight taking on the welterweight champion.

The Hogs stripped and ripped the Commodores so many times, one would have thought they were playing against Smores.

By the time Vanderbilt suffered its 20th turnover, there was still more than 12 minutes to play.

The Commodores seemed to commit every type of turnover possible Saturday.

And Coach Mike Anderson must have gotten his team’s attention during halftime, because the Razorbacks were getting nothing out of their half court offense in the first half, and in the second half guys were cutting sharper and hustling harder to get open.

After Arkansas’ dismal performance against A&M and in the opening half Saturday,Anderson probably needed to get some guys’ attention.

For the most part, in the first half the Razorbacks picked up where they left off offensively at Texas A&M. If not for Powell, it could have been disastrous.

Powell was 6 of 6 from the field and the Hogs led 21-11 at intermission, but the rest of the team was just 4 of 20. What kept Arkansas from leading by at least 20 was poor shot selection, a lack of execution and the inability to finish, which kept it closer than it should have been.

Powell outscored the Commodores 12-11 in the first half, but on far too many possessions he didn’t even get a touch.

Still, Vanderbilt had an awful first half overall.

The Commodores couldn’t have started any worse if they had tried. A little of it might have been they were coming off a down-to-the-wire home loss to Kentucky, 60-58, less than 48 hours earlier.

The biggest problem, though, was the Razorbacks’ hands were too quick and nine of the first 14 turnovers were steals. The Hogs didn’t let up the second half, either.

Because of the Hogs’ defense, Vanderbilt was a chilly 3 of 15 from the field and it was held to one field goal until there was just 1:24 to play in the first half.

What hurt the Hogs in the early going was failing to score off Vandy’s mistakes, which is often the bread and butter of Anderson’s pressure defense. The Hogs scored 12 points off 14 turnovers, and it should have been much more.

Granted, Young, Arkansas’ leading scorer, spent much of the first half on the bench with two fouls, but someone has to be ready to step up and attack the basket. Maybe not like he did in the second half, but consider that the Hogs didn’t shoot a single free throw in the first half. That happens when a team isn’t attacking the rim.

Vandy cut it to 19-11, but Powell got a rebound and a put back with 4.5 seconds left to give the Hogs the lead going into halftime.

The best news is the Razorbacks avoided a bad loss and evened their record in conference play.

Sports, Pages 21 on 01/13/2013