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:
There’s no time for Arkansas, fans to brood
Arkansas guard Rashad Madden (00) looks for room while being guarded by Florida guard Michael Frazier II (20) as Florida coach Billy Donovan, left, watches in Fayetteville, Ark. during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014. Florida won 84-82 in overtime. (AP Photo/David Quinn)
FAYETTEVILLE - It was Arkansas’ game to win.
Another big home victory over a ranked team was there for the taking, and the season’s largest crowd was on its feet trying to help the Hogs keep the pressure on Florida.
The Razorbacks led 64-57 with 4:43 to play, and Patric Young, the Gators’ muscleman in the middle, had four fouls. But Young did not draw a fifth foul in regulation as the Hogs managed only one field goal down the stretch, a jumper by Rashad Madden, who led all scorers with 23.
Instead of finishing strong, the Razorbacks missed a point-blank put back, a short jumper that could have been rebounded with a little follow through, another missed jumper and, finally, the front end of a 1-and-1 opportunity with a two-point lead and 17.1 seconds to play, which allowed the Gators to tie it at 66 and send it to overtime.
The Gators then found their range and won 84-82, but not before the Hogs could have tied it in the final 20 seconds with a three but attempted a two-pointer.
Even in defeat, the Razorbacks were much better than they were in their SEC opener at Texas A&M, and if they can continue to improve and find a way to make a road trip or two with the intensity they showed Saturday, things could be much different.
In some ways the most amazing thing about the game was the crowd of 18,040. This program has gone from elite to exiled from the NCAA Tournament, but the fans still believe.
A couple of times during the game one of the signs on courtside boasted 16 Sweet 16s, which was just a hard reminder that this could be the 18th consecutive season of not making it to the Sweet 16.
The last one was when freshman guards Kareem Reid and Pat Bradley helped surprise the NCAA Tournament by winning their first two in March Madness. That was 1996.
This is the 20-year anniversary of Arkansas’ national championship.
Yet the fan base, for the most part, has not given up, and despite the loss it was easy to see this is probably the closest Mike Anderson has had to having his own players.
In nine seasons before Anderson returned, the program spiraled downward, and when he was finally hired he took over a team short of scholarships because of Academic Progress Rate problems, short on talent and extremely short on discipline.
Anderson hasn’t complained or made excuses even once. He just keeps working.
There was much grinding of teeth by the Razorbacks Nation after the loss to Texas A&M because the Hogs missed 11 layups, but they took 58 shots.
There were times during his first two seasons when Anderson could only dream of his team getting that many attempts.
Saturday was not a complete meltdown, but the Gators led only once in the second half, from 19:21 to 18:00, and not again until overtime.
A lot of that was the Razorbacks’ defense. In the end, it was more shooting problems and bad decision-making.
Arkansas trailed only twice in the first half, for a combined 78 seconds, but when the Hogs took a 34-27 lead Florida Coach Billy Donovan had already shifted his 10th-ranked Gators into a zone and the Razorbacks struggled mightily.
It is difficult enough for a team that is in a shooting slump (11 of 33 in the first half) to beat a zone, but when that team also stands around it is going to get worse.
The Gators outscored the Razorbacks 8-2 to close out the half, cutting the Hogs’ lead to 36-35. And even though Arkansas had 13 points off turnovers, none of them came off a fast break.
It does not, however, signal the end of the season, not even with Kentucky looming large in the headlights, and there is no reason the Razorbacks Nation won’t be back Tuesday to help again.
Sports, Pages 19 on 01/12/2014