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:
Suspensions just one more problem for Hogs
In this Dec. 19, 2013, file photo, Arkansas' Michael Qualls (24) looks to the basket as Tennessee-Martin's Terence Smith attempts a steal during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Fayetteville, Ark. Qualls led Arkansas in its nonconference schedule but has struggled in Southeastern Conference play. (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson, File)
If Mike Anderson didn’t shave his head, he might be pulling his hair out by the handfuls.
He’s trying everything he can to win a road game - he’s 2-22 in road games in his third season with the Razorbacks - and any chance that the LSU Tigers might be caught with their heads in the clouds after beating Kentucky earlier in the week went out the window when Anderson was blindsided by a couple of his own players.
Michael Qualls and Alandise Harris didn’t make the trip to Baton Rouge because they were suspended for actions detrimental to the team. Suspended indefinitely.
One thing about Anderson, he puts character ahead of winning. He’s a teacher first.
So Anderson left an average of more than 20 points per game back in Fayetteville, and with a short deck, he tried to throw LSU a curve by coming out in a zone defense.
For Anderson to put his pressure man-to-man defense on the back burner means he was willing to try anything to throw off the Tigers. Or maybe he wanted to save some legs to spring the traps on the Tigers in the second half.
The zone sure didn’t work, and Anderson went back to his pressure defense.
The Tigers threw down on the Hogs early, hitting seven of their first 10 shots.
Everyone knew the Tigers would cool off, but what was hard to figure out was why the Razorbacks couldn’t ever warm up, even when it appeared they might grab control in the second half. They would then run head first into another cold front, which they sometimes created by taking long three-pointers.
At halftime, when they trailed 40-25, the Hogs were 8 of 31 from the field. It’s hard to get much out of a press that starts with made field goals when you are that cold. That’s a field goal every 2 1/2 minutes and a miss every minute.
By then the Tigers had dropped to 17 of 36 (47.2 percent), but thanks in large part to 10 points off offensive rebounds and the Hogs getting almost nothing off turnovers, LSU built a first-half lead that was threatened but never relinquished.
The Hogs started the second half 1 of 5 from the floor, but they outscored LSU 16-7 to cut the deficit to 51-43. In that run, they managed consecutive field goals for the first time in the game.
LSU then attacked the Razorbacks’ pressure defense and went on a 19-7 run to take a 70-50 lead, but the Hogs stuck to their knitting and kept piling up turnovers and points off the miscues. Mardracus Wade made his only field goal - a three-pointer - with 4:50 to play, and the Tigers were staring at a 74-68 lead.
That’s when the cold hand reached up and grabbed Arkansas again while yanking it into another road loss. The Hogs managed just six more points, and the more athletic and quicker Tigers just kept attacking.
The better team won Saturday, although the Hogs managed to turn a dismal first half into a contest a couple of times in the second half before falling 88-74.
A glaring problem for the Razorbacks was their shot selection.
Both teams took 64 shots, with LSU making 35 to Arkansas’ 21. The Razorbacks attempted 26 three-pointers - and most them weren’t late in the game when they were trying to get something going - while LSU took 16. Both teams made seven. That’s 27 percent for the Hogs, and it took making an unlikely 25 of 27 free throws to keep it from being a lopsided loss.
Now the Razorbacks come home for a winnable game against Alabama.
Only Anderson knows when Qualls and Harris will be back, but it won’t be until they are not a detriment to the team.
Sports, Pages 21 on 02/02/2014