Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
Portis shows maturity with fewer points at Vandy
Vanderbilt forward James Siakam (35), behind, and Arkansas forward Bobby Portis, front, battle for a rebound in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
FAYETTEVILLE - Bobby Portis didn’t feel the need to carry Arkansas’ offense on Saturday at Vanderbilt the way he did the previous game against Alabama.
Portis, a 6-10 forward from Little Rock Hall, went from scoring an Arkansas freshman-record 35 points in 31 minutes against the Crimson Tide to scoring eight points in 31 minutes against the Commodores, but the Razorbacks won both games.
“Most guys, if they get 35 one night, guess what? They’re trying to get 35 the next night,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said. “But Bobby does whatever it takes to win. That’s a tribute to the young man. “
The SEC paid tribute to Portis on Monday by naming him conference freshman of the week for the third time. That matches the most by a Razorback. Patrick Beverley, who now plays for the Houston Rockets, was a three-time SEC freshman of the week during the 2006-2007 season.
Portis celebrated his 19th birthday Monday along with his latest SEC honor.
“I tell you what, he’s a young man that could be ahead of his time,” Anderson said. “In terms of basketball, and just in general, if you have a conversation with him, he’s on top of things.
“He knows what he wants out of life, and he doesn’t’ mind working for it. I think he listens, and he’s coachable. He’s a character kid, so it doesn’t surprise me that he’s in this position to have a chance to be a very special player here at the University of Arkansas.”
When Portis hit 14 of 17 shots from the floor in the Razorbacks’ 65-58 victory over Alabama, his teammates combined to shoot 8 of 40. Early in the second half, he had scored 29 of Arkansas’ 35 points, including 17 in a row.
After the Razorbacks excluding Portis shot 20 percent against Alabama, they shot 57.1 percent (24 of 42) in Arkansas’ 77-75 victory at Vanderbilt. Portis was 3 of 8 from the field and hit 1 of 2 free throws.
Sophomore forward Michael Qualls led the Razorbacks (15-8, 4-6) at Vanderbilt with 17 points, including the game-winning three-pointer with 2.6 seconds left. Senior forward Coty Clarke added 14 points, junior guard Ky Madden 12 and senior guard Mardracus Wade 11.
“I thought Vanderbilt really paid a lot of attention to Bobby, and we still found him with the basketball, but he was able to facilitate and get the ball to other people,” Anderson said. “I guess you could say he was a decoy for the most part.
“So our guys were able to really gather up and knock some shots down, we were able to attack the basket on Vanderbilt.”
Portis had 9 rebounds, 6 blocked shots against Alabama and 5 rebounds and 2 steals at Vanderbilt.
“One of the best signs about him being a good player is that he doesn’t always need to have the ball to impact the game,” Commodores Coach Kevin Stallings said. “He’ll go rebound it, he’ll set a screen, he’ll make a good pass. He’ll play hard on defense.
“He’s a really good player, and he plays with a high motor. I think that’s the thing I like best about him - he plays hard.”
Missouri Coach Frank Haith, whose Tigers play Arkansas on Thursday night, said the fact Portis didn’t force shots at Vanderbilt after his 35-point game is a sign of his maturity.
“He’s not a freshman anymore,” Haith said. “He’s getting better and better and understanding winning at a young age, and doing what you need to do for your team to win.”
Anderson said Portis has strong fundamentals.
“I think he does a lot of good things,” Anderson said. “I still want him to be a little bit stronger with the ball around the basket.
“But he’s a versatile forward, and his confidence is pretty high right now.”
Portis, the only Razorback to start all 23 games this season, is averaging 13.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.4 blocked shots and 1.3 assists per game.
“I’m very impressed with him,” Stallings said. “Obviously, what he did against Alabama was spectacular. But he’s a terrific player, and I think he has a terrific future.”
Sports, Pages 17 on 02/11/2014