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.
Feisty Clarke fouls up
Aggressiveness limits court time
Arkansas guard Coty Clarke (4) drives past LSU guard Anthony Hickey (1) for a layup during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson)
FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas forward Coty Clarke gave Missouri and LSU 40 minutes of hell.
That was 40 minutes total in the two games, when Clarke combined for 28 points, 15 rebounds and 5 assists while hitting 8 of 12 shots - including 5 of 7three-pointers - and 5 of 6 free throws.
“I wish he could play a whole game,” Razorbacks Coach Mike Anderson said.
Clarke played 19 minutes at Missouri and 21 against LSU because of foul problems. He finished with four fouls in each game and had two in the first half, forcing Anderson to sit Clarke to make sure he’d be available for the second half.
“I’m just trying to play aggressive,” said Clarke, a 6-7 senior. “But I’ve put my teammates in a bind with being in foul trouble and sitting over there, and I’m making Coach make a tough decision whether to sit me or bring me back in.”
Clark said he is hoping to avoid more early foul problems when the Razorbacks (16-9, 5-7 SEC) play South Carolina (10-15, 3-9) at 8 tonight in Walton Arena, but he said it’s a problem he’s had since he started playing basketball as a youth.
“I’ve been doing it since I was knee-high,” Clarke said. “It’s just being aggressive and trying to use my instincts.”
Fouling has followed Clarke since he transferred to Arkansas from Lawson State (Ala.) Community College before last season.
Clarke has fouled out three times and had four fouls seven times in 25 games this season, totaling a team high 78 fouls in 526 minutes, a foul every 6.7 minutes. Last season, Clarke was called for 90 fouls in 31 games and fouled out three times.
“I always think that I can get that ball, no matter what,” Clarke said about his penchant for drawing whistles.
Clarke said if he isn’t being aggressive, he doesn’t feel he’s playing.
“It’s almost like I’m just floating, and I try not to float at all,” he said. “Being physical is my type of game. If it’s not physical, then it’s not allowing me to be who I am.”
The NCAA’s crackdown on hand-checking may be contributing to Clarke’s problems, and he said he’s been getting plenty of advice about how to avoid being called for fouls.
“You get it from the coaches, the players, the people behind the bench,” Clarke said. “It’s just frustrating when they tell you, ‘You’ve got to quit fouling.’ ”
Clarke showed last week - in Thursday’s 86-85 loss at Missouri and Saturday’s 81-70 victory over LSU - he can play in foul trouble.
He had four rebounds in the final 2:14 at Missouri despite having four fouls. Clarke drew his third foul with 18:32 left against LSU, but he had six points and four rebounds to help fuel the Razorbacks’ winning run during the final 10 minutes.
“I try to make adjustments,” Clarke said.
Anderson said Clarke has been careless at times, drawing touch fouls instead of using better footwork.
“Those cheap fouls where he’s reaching come back to haunt him,” Anderson said. “I think he’s got to be a little bit more selective defensively.”
Anderson said the Razorbacks need Clarke to play more minutes because of his versatility and maturity. Clarke is averaging 9.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists and shooting 48.8 percent from the field, including 17 of 36 on three-point attempts.
Anderson appointed Clarke a team co-captain before the season along with senior guard Kikko Haydar.
“He’s a calming force,” Anderson said. “He’s just a glue guy who has done a lot of good things.”
Clarke is among five seniors trying to help the Razorbacks make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008.
“The sense of urgency is very high,” Clarke said. “That’s why I’m raising my level of focus and play to a max, to where I can put my team in position that we can continue to play better and make this run.”
Clarke said there is no way of knowing how much more basketball he, or his four fellow seniors, are going to play beyond this year, so they want to play as many minutes as they can now.
“We might have to go get a regular job,” he said. “I’m trying not to think about that. I want to play basketball right now.”
Today’s game ARKANSAS MEN VS. SOUTH CAROLINA WHEN 8 p.m.
WHERE Walton Arena, Fayetteville RECORDS Arkansas 16-9, 5-7 SEC; South Carolina 10-15, 3-9.
SERIES Arkansas leads 14-11 RADIO Razorback Sports Network TELEVISION Comcast Sports Southwest (Comcast Channel 23 in central Arkansas and Cox 119 in Northwest Arkansas) TICKETS $25 lower and upper deck, $20 loft (west end zone above 4th row)
Sports, Pages 18 on 02/19/2014