Matt Jones has been the online sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette since 2010. He is also a feature writer for Hawgs Illustrated magazine and is currently pursuing a Masters degree in journalism.
Confident Hogs want road win
12/22/12 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/STEPHEN B. THORNTON Arkansas' coach Mike Anderson during their game in the second half against Alabama A&M's Saturday night at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock.
FAYETTEVILLE Call it Hog Ball or 40 minutes of something, but Arkansas' basketball team might have come as close to what Mike Anderson envisioned Wednesday night than at any other point in his two seasons back with the Razorbacks.
Arkansas hounded Mississippi State for 30-plus minutes before cruising to a 96-70 win over the Bulldogs at Bud Walton Arena. The Razorbacks' pressure defense forced Mississippi State into 29 turnovers, which were turned into 42 points on the other end.
"Some of that had to do with Mississippi State was short-handed, but at the same time I think our mindset, no matter who we were playing, was where we wanted it to be, especially defensively," Arkansas assistant TJ Cleveland said. "Offensively, we were sharing the ball. I think we had 20-something assists and a lot of steals, and we're defending the rim. We had 11 blocks last night and I think we're number two in the league right now in blocks.
JEKYLL AND HYDE
Mike Anderson at Arkansas
"We're doing some good things defensively, but I think sharing the ball was something we hadn't done in the last few games."
Everything the Razorbacks tried worked against the Bulldogs. BJ Young played his first game off the bench this season and scored 13 of the reserves' 60 points. Coty Clarke added 13 points and Anthlon Bell knocked down three 3-point attempts.
"We're doing the things we work on every day with defense being the starting point," Anderson said. "We're playing unselfishly on defense where we're fixing things, rebounding the basketball. You're starting to see a lot of guys rebound the basketball; it's not just one or two guys that's dominating the rebound. Our guards are rebounding the ball. We're getting the loose balls, getting the loose deflections now and we've got guys who are running and pushing the basketball, seeing guys ahead and making the extra pass."
The game came as little surprise to those who have come to Bud Walton Arena this season. In home games, Arkansas has been nearly unbeatable, with its only loss coming to Syracuse by nine points in November.
While the competition has been far from stellar, the Razorbacks have outscored their three SEC foes in Fayetteville by an average 19 points.
The road has been a different story. Not counting a win at North Little Rock's Verizon Arena last month, the Razorbacks are 0-5 away from home this season, losing two conference games by a combined 30 points to Texas A&M and Ole Miss.
Arkansas had first half leads in both contests before falling apart after halftime.
"We're knocking on the door and I think we're about to turn that corner," Cleveland said. "A few plays here and there, and we'd have a win on the road. We have to take the same mindset we play with and just continue to fight and make some shots. Our defense has been pretty good. I think we've been holding teams to a low percentage shooting, but it's always a couple of plays for the other team that have kind of broken it open, and we don't convert. It's just some small things we have to fix that will help us win."
Anderson is hopeful Arkansas can sustain momentum from the win against Mississippi State when it travels to South Carolina on Saturday. The Gamecocks are 1-4 in the SEC, but gave Missouri a scare last Wednesday in a 71-65 loss.
As is custom, Anderson said the Razorbacks' success hinges more on themselves than their opponents.
"This time of year, you really want to start playing some good basketball," Anderson said. "I think in a lot of areas we’re doing some good things. Now, let’s see if we can take that on the road and have a good showing from the start to the middle of the game to the finish of the game.
"I think we're one of those teams that will evolve as the season goes along. Guys are feeling comfortable out on the floor. The more we do that, we'll continue to get better. We haven't arrived and we can always play better, but we're a good basketball team."