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.
Arkansas needs Qualls to attack
Arkansas guard Michael Qualls, center, and Kentucky guard Andrew Harrison (5) reach for a loose ball during overtime Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2014, in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas forward Michael Qualls’ game-winning putback dunk against Kentucky may be the most celebrated and replayed basket of the college season, but it’s one of his few field goals in SEC play.
Qualls said after beating Kentucky it seemed like “a piece of glass was over the rim” in the previous two SEC games after he shot 3 of 22 against Texas A&M and Florida.
The glass appeared to be back over the rim for Qualls in the two games since Kentucky as he shot 1 of 13 against Georgia and Tennessee.
Including Qualls’ 5-of-14 shooting against Kentucky, he is at 18.4 percent in SEC games (9 of 49) and 2 of 18 on three-point attempts.
“I think he’s pressing a little bit,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said. “I think that’s it more than anything else.”
The Razorbacks are hoping Qualls can break out of his shooting slump and help them start climbing back into the SEC race when Arkansas (12-6, 1-4) plays Auburn (8-8, 0-5) at 5 p.m. today in Walton Arena.
“He does things that a lot of other guys can’t do with his athleticism, so we definitely need him,” Arkansas senior guard Kikko Haydar said. “We try to tell him don’t even worry about scoring, because he can impact the game without scoring a point.
“That Kentucky game, he did a lot things other than just dunking the basketball at the end.”
Qualls scored 18 points against the Wildcats, but he also had 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals.
“We want to see Mike get going, but we want to see our team get going, too,” Anderson said. “It has got to be more about our team as well, and I think he’s a big part of it. His energy is contagious, and if he’s that guy that’s slashing and attacking and aggressive, then I think he helps our basketball team.”
Qualls, a 6-6 sophomore, averaged a team-high 13.7 points in 13 nonconference games while shooting 53.1 percent from the field (60 of 113), including 18 of 43 three-pointers.
“In the conference they pay a little more attention to you,” Anderson said. “It’s a little bit more physical, and I think people are putting bodies on him. The sense of urgency turns up a different notch, and hopefully he’ll be able to bring his game up to that level.”
Qualls, averaging 6.8 points in SEC play, had a season-low one point in the Razorbacks’ 81-74 loss at Tennessee on Wednesday night. He was 0 of 3 from the field and1 of 2 from the free-throw line in a season-low 10 minutes off the bench.
“He just needs to relax and play,” Haydar said. “I think he’s thinking about it too much. If the shots fall, great. If they don’t, go get it, rebound it, and we’ll be fine.
“He just needs to stop worrying about it so much.”
Despite Qualls’ shooting in SEC games, overall he’s averaging 11.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 25.4 minutes. He is averaging 5.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists in SEC games.
“He’s kind of been struggling lately, but every player goes through that,” Arkansas senior guard Fred Gulley said. “He’s working hard to get out of that and to be able to help the team in any way possible.
“We’ve talked to him and told him we need him, and we’re encouraging him and trying to get him to pick up his play.”
Anderson said Qualls needs to do a better job preparing for games.
“His practice hasn’t been good,” Anderson said. “He has to get better and have carryover in the games. I see that coming from him. He’ll break out of it.”TODAY’S GAMES All times Central Vanderbilt at Texas A&M, noon Georgia at Kentucky, 12:30 p.m.
Mississippi State at Mississippi, 3 p.m.
South Carolina at Missouri, 3 p.m.
Tennessee at Florida, 3 p.m.
Auburn at Arkansas, 5 p.m.
LSU at Alabama, 7 p.m.
TUESDAY’S GAMES Missouri at Arkansas, 6 p.m.
Kentucky at LSU, 8 p.m.
ARKANSAS MEN VS. AUBURN WHEN 5 p.m. today WHERE Walton Arena, Fayetteville RECORDS Arkansas 12-6, 1-4 SEC. Auburn 8-8, 0-5.
SERIES Arkansas leads 30-16 RADIO Razorback Sports Network TELEVISION Fox Sports Net TICKETS $25 lower and upper deck, $20 loft (west end zone above 4th row)
Sports, Pages 19 on 01/25/2014