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:
Forget fouls, this one all about effort, desire
Arkansas forward Bobby Portis (10) and forward Coty Clarke (4) double-team Georgia forward Brandon Morris (31) under the basket during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/The Banner-Herald, Richard Hamm)
The Arkansas Razorbacks had a great opportunity to get a rare road victory after taking a 41-34 lead against Georgia with 15:56 to play in the second half Saturday, but let it slip away to a 52-52 tie that sent the game into overtime, where the Bulldogs survived 66-61.
Instead of surging and building a bigger and safer lead, the Hogs went almost as cold as a Ukrainian winter. It was partly because for more than 20 minutes they took quick shots, bad shots and shots that made no sense.
The half-court offense never got into any type of rhythm. While some of that can be attributed to bad shooting, some of it was not protecting the ball, not being aggressive, not getting high-percentage shots and simply poor passing.
The Razorbacks seem to rarely deliver a pass where a guy can just catch and release it, and that gives the edge to defenders.
Some will make excuses about how Georgia shot 39 free throws to Arkansas’ 20. The Bulldogs made 28, while the Razorbacks made only 12.
There are no excuses when you allow any team 24 offensive rebounds.
Georgia had 22 points off second-chance opportunities. Arkansas had 22 total points in the paint.
This was not a game decided by athleticism or coaching. This was about effort and desire.
It was about being patient and showing confidence in a half-court set. If Arkansas is going to live and die by fastbreak points, then it should be noted that the Razorbacks had only four transition points Saturday. That’s partly a lack of attack.
It was about getting the ball to the hot hand. That was Fred Gulley on Saturday. He had 12 points - eight consecutive at one point that staked the Hogs to the 41-34 lead - but took only seven shots, the fewest of any of the starters.
It appears that if someone doesn’t get open breaking to the basket when Arkansas has the ball, the favorite answer is to jack up a three-pointer. The Razorbacks took 66 shots Saturday, and 23 of those were three-pointers. They made seven from behind the arc, and four of those were in the first half.
Yes, they were outscored - obviously, there were no real runs - 24-23 in a dismal second half to send it to overtime in a game in which neither team really deserved more than a tie.
Saying it was sloppy would be like saying the Hogs have struggled on the road since Nolan Richardson left. They are 15-76 on the road in conference play since Richardson’s departure.
Neither Georgia, which refused to give up, nor Arkansas looked like teams headed for postseason play unless they can turn a major corner between now and March Madness.
Saturday was the perfect opportunity for the Razorbacks to get that road monkey off their backs, which seems to have become an 800-pound gorilla.
They came out for the second half inspired, and their defense forced three traveling calls that helped the Razorbacks take a seven-point lead and then hold off the Dogs, who didn’t take a second-half lead until 3:15 remained.
By then that haunting feeling was there, that once again the Razorbacks would find a way to lose a road game that should have been a big one in the victory column.
In their past 26 conference road games, the Hogs’ only three victories were at Auburn, but the Razorbacks don’t play there this season.
Now Arkansas travels to Knoxville to take on Tennessee, which lost Saturday at Kentucky, the same Wildcats team the Hogs beat in overtime last Tuesday at Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
This team has to take a victory like it had against Kentucky and build off it. It has to play defense for 40 minutes, make better passes and take smarter shots.
On Saturday, there were no excuses.
Sports, Pages 21 on 01/19/2014