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:
This time Razorbacks show their true colors
Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson reacts after an official called a foul on one his players in the first half of an NCAA college basketball against Vanderbilt game Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
No one will ever confuse playing Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn., with going to Arkansas, Kentucky or Florida, but it is a very tough place to win, which is exactly what the Arkansas Razorbacks did Saturday when they survived a late shooting drought to escape with a 77-75 victory.
Wash the new anthracite uniforms gently in cold water and anoint them the new road uniforms.
In their first appearance in the dark-gray uniforms, which was probably mandated by Nike, the Razorbacks pressed and trapped enough to take a 68-59 lead with 8:45 to play.
The Hogs press after field goals or made free throws. They had neither for a 6:27 span that allowed Vanderbilt to take a 71-68 lead, but this time it wasn’t going to be another chapter in the same old Lose On The Road book.
Ky Madden broke the drought with a three-pointer to tie it at 71-71 and then went one-on-one to make it 73-73, but his best play was yet to come.
Coty Clarke made 1 of 2 free throws with 26.2 seconds to play, but the Commodores made two and led 75-74 with 11.6 to play.
That isn’t the type of situation in which the Razorbacks have flourished in the past.
Mike Anderson was passionate and diligent as he drew up a final play, and to all the world it looked as if Madden was going one-on one again. Hero or goat.
He drove into the paint, drew a crowd of Commodores and then dished it to Michael Qualls, who buried the three-pointer with 2.6 seconds left.
That left Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings with plenty of time to try to set up a shot for the victory, but the Hogs were where they are at their best - on defense.
They found a way to win despite the cold shooting streak, but the final 2:18 was a direct result of the first half.
Arkansas entered the strange confines of Memorial Coliseum, after sleepwalking through a victory over Alabama at home Wednesday night, and went on the offensive with their defense.
The Commodores’ floor is raised and the benches are in the end zones, but the first half was like a home game for the Razorbacks. They attacked and took a 45-40 lead into halftime as they scored 17 points off 11 turnovers, with 9 of those steals.
Arkansas controlled the game when it controlled the tempo, and it built nine-point leads in both halves before letting up on defense and letting the Commodores come back to take a one-point lead.
This Razorbacks team is not good enough to take time off. It has to play hard for 40 minutes, especially on defense, because that fuels the offense.
This was a big game. Maybe not as far as being a bubble team for the NCAA Tournament, but it was important as far as SEC Tournament seedings are concerned.
Vanderbilt was trying to remain among the top four in the league, which means getting a bye until Friday at the SEC Tournament. Arkansas was trying to avoid being a member of the bottom four, which would force the Razorbacks to play on Wednesday at the tournament. That would leave them needing to win five games in five days to make the Big Dance.
Vandy was riding a four game winning streak in which its defense had allowed an average of 54.5 points per game. The Hogs had 45 at the break, and Arkansas’ pressure defense seemed to be taking a toll on the Commodores, who prefer a half-court attack with four or five passes before taking a shot.
The Hogs suffocated the Commodores for most of the opening half, and this time it paid off in turnovers and fatigue late in the game that paid big dividends for the Razorbacks.
Anthracite uniforms had nothing to do with it.
It was the heart and passion the Razorbacks played with, and in the final minutes when they’ve lost so many road games, they executed the called play and won.
Sports, Pages 23 on 02/09/2014