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.
Hogs guard gets his head straight
Arkansas senior Mardracus Wade (1) looks to drive as Alabama senior Trevor Releford defends during the second half of play Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - The headband is back. So is Mardracus Wade.
Wade, Arkansas’ senior guard from Memphis who seemed buried on the bench earlier this season, had 11 points, 2 assists and 2 steals in 27 minutes off the bench to help the Razorbacks get their first road victory of the season, 77-75, at Vanderbilt last Saturday.
“I played that game with a lot of confidence,” said Wade, who hit 3 of 5 shots, including 2 of 2 on three-pointers. “I wasn’t thinking. My mind-set was just focused on going out there and helping my team from the defensive end. If I got a good look, I was going to take it.
“I’ve been pretty aggressive in practice, and I just feel like my old self again.”
Wade matched his season high for points and minutes in the Vanderbilt game after playing 24 minutes in the Razorbacks’ 65-58 victory over Alabama.
The 51 combined minutes are the most Wade has played in back-to-back games all season.
It might be a coincidence, but Wade’s playing time started picking up when he started wearing a headband in recent games.
Wade said a friend asked him to bring back the headband, which he wore in high school and his freshman season at Arkansas.
“She said, ‘I really liked you wearing it. I felt like you were a different player then,’ ” Wade said. “I said, ‘You know, I can wear it for you.’ She’s excited and thinks it’s like a good-luck charm now.
“If it’s good luck, then I’m all for it.”
Wade’s season bottomed out during the nonconference schedule when he didn’t play in back-to-back home games against Clemson (Dec. 7) and Savannah State (Dec. 12), ending a stretch of 102 consecutive games at Arkansas. Another low point was not seeing any action in Arkansas’ Jan. 11 overtime loss to Florida.
“It was really tough,” Wade said. “It was kind of like, ‘What did I do wrong?’ What is Coach trying to do?’
“I think he was testing me, seeing what kind of person I am and if I’m going to shut down or push myself even more, work harder.”
Anderson said Wade’s commitment to playing defense got him back into the playing rotation.
“I think defensively, he’s figured it out how to get on the floor and stay on the floor,” Anderson said. “I think our defense has really picked up, and he’s a catalyst for it.”
Sophomore forward Michael Qualls called Wade a lock down defender.
“I feel like he’s one of the best defenders in this conference guard-wise,” said Qualls, who hit a game-winning three-point basket with 2.6 seconds left at Vanderbilt. “That’s just the faith that I’vegot in him, what he shows me.
“If we can slow down the point guard on any team that we play, then that rattles the whole team’s offense. So we have Mardracus up there putting up energy, then the whole team follows.”
Wade had two steals and two assists in the first four minutes he played off the bench at Vanderbilt.
“I just wanted to be in attack mode,” Wade said. “Coach said we were going to keep pushing it, get steals, attack the basket. I just tried to follow that game plan.”
Wade said he considers himself a defensive specialist.
“It makes me so mad when people score on me,” Wade said. “I flip out sometimes. I hate it with a passion.”
Arkansas plays on Thursday night at Missouri, which beat the Razorbacks 75-71 on Jan. 28 with Tigers guards Jabari Brown, Earnest Ross and Jordan Clarkson combining to score 59 points.
“We need to make them work for everything,” Wade said. “Make then come off a lot of screens, take difficult shots, play defense when we’re on offense by passing, cutting and moving. Just wear those guys out, get into their legs.
“They’re going to score - we’re not going to shut them out - but the main thing is to make it hard for them.”
Anderson said he expects Wade to be “playing when it counts” the rest of this season.
“This is the time of year where sometimes that experience kicks in, and the sense of urgency is certainly with the seniors,” Anderson said. “This is his last go-around, and I think he wants to go out with a great bang.”
Sports, Pages 22 on 02/12/2014