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.
UA’s Qualls isn’t afraid to embrace moment
LEFT: Arkansas' Michael Qualls celebrates following Arkansas' 87-85 overtime win over No. 13 Kentucky at Bud Walton Arena on Jan. 14, 2014. RIGHT: Qualls dunks the basketball with 0.2 seconds remaining in overtime to give the Razorbacks the go-ahead score.
FAYETTEVILLE - Kentucky’s players should be well aware of Michael Qualls wherever he goes tonight on the Rupp Arena court.
Qualls, Arkansas’ 6-6 sophomore, figures to be a marked man in the rematch against the No. 17 Wildcats after his put back dunk with 0.2 seconds left in overtime lifted the Razorbacks’ to an 87-85 victory over Kentucky on Jan. 14 at Walton Arena.
The Wildcats were caught watching a three-point attempt by Ky Madden bounce off the rim while Qualls flew into the lane and threw down the game-winner in what has become one of the most talked about plays of the college basketball season.
Arkansas at No. 17 Kentucky
WHEN 6 p.m. Central
WHERE Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.
RECORDS Arkansas 18-9, 7-7 SEC; Kentucky 21-6, 11-3
SERIES Kentucky leads 25-10
It was one of 27 dunks for Qualls this season.
“What he does athletically, he can stand out,” Kentucky Coach John Calipari said. “He can do things and make plays that are broken down. He still goes and makes a play. The rebound he got was off a missed shot, and he attacked the basket and won the game.
“We obviously know how good he is, but knowing how good he is and trying to slow a guy down are two different things.”
Qualls has shown this season his game is about more than highlight dunks. He’s also hit:
The game-winning three point basket with 2.7 seconds left when Arkansas won 77-75 at Vanderbilt on Feb. 8.
A three-pointer with 4:40 left in the Razorbacks’ 71-64 victory over South Carolina on Feb. 19 to break a 55-55 tie and put Arkansas ahead to stay.
A 16-foot jumper with 2:54 left for the Razorbacks’ final points in their 73-69 victory at Mississippi State to stop a 9-0 run by the Bulldogs, who had cut Arkansas’ lead to 71-65.
“I feel like if you want to be better, if you want to be great, you can’t shy away from those type of moments,” Qualls said. “Not taking away from none of my teammates, because I know if they have the ball in their hands at the same moment they’ll do the same thing, if not even better.”
The fact remains, though, that no Razorback has hit more critical shots than Qualls.
“I think he relishes that opportunity,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said. “I think, left up to him, he’d like to take all the big shots.
“Some guys have that makeup, being at the right place at the right time. You’ve got to have the confidence, and he has that confidence in himself that he’ll knock it down.”
Qualls, averaging 11.9 points and 4.7 rebounds, had his scoring high for an SEC game with 20 points against South Carolina - topping the 18 he had in the first Kentucky game - as he hit 7 of 14 shots, including 4 of 7 three-pointers.
“If this was the first time he did it - against us - I’d be upset at my guys, but he’s been playing like that here during conference play,” Gamecocks Coach Frank Martin said. “He’s a lot of fun to watch. He plays with unbelievable energy, and now that he’s making threes he’s becoming one of the better players in the league.”
Qualls is averaging 13.2points over the past seven SEC games while hitting 47.2 percent (17 of 36) of his three point attempts. In the first six SEC games, he hit 10 percent of his three-point attempts (2 of 20) while averaging 6.5 points.
“Let’s hope he goes back to 2 for 20 in our game,” Calipari said of Qualls turning around his shooting. “But that he has the confidence to be able to do that tells a lot about the young man.”
Qualls averaged 13.7 points in nonconference games, scoring 21 against California and 17 against Clemson, and shot 53.1 percent (60 of 113) from the field. Then he nose-dived to 19.6 percent (11 of 56) to start SEC play.
“Just lack of focus,” Qualls said. “Some big moments I stepped up - because it was a big moment - but basically I just had to realize every game is a big moment, every time is a big moment, especially when your back is against the wall.”
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Anderson helped get Qualls’ attention with a one game suspension. Qualls and forward Alandise Harris didn’t make the trip to Baton Rouge for Arkansas’ 88-74 loss at LSU on Feb. 1 because of what Anderson called conduct detrimental to the team.
The loss at LSU ended a 1-4 stretch for the Razorbacks. Since Qualls and Harris were reinstated to the team, Arkansas is 5-1.
Anderson said Qualls may have gotten caught up in his early-season success and figured it would automatically carry over in SEC play.
“Sometimes the hype is there and you start believing it,” Anderson said. “When you have some success, be humble about it and just keep working.
“It’s just a learning experience for him, but it seems like now he’s got that pop back in him and he’s playing with that confidence.”
Sports, Pages 17 on 02/27/2014