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.
SEC BASKETBALL ARKANSAS 87, GEORGIA 75:
Hogs win 7th of 8, reach 20
Arkansas' Alandise Harris, center, flies back down the court and through Brandon Morris, left, and Juwan Parker, both of Georgia, Saturday, March 1, 2014, during the second half of the game at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville
FAYETTEVILLE - There was no post-Kentucky letdown for the Arkansas Razorbacks this time.
Arkansas beat Georgia 87-75 in Walton Arena on Saturday before an announced crowd of 18,547, avenging a 66-61 overtime loss to Georgia six weeks ago in Athens.
Saturday’s victory over Georgia, like January’s overtime loss to Georgia, came after an Arkansas overtime victory over Kentucky.
Sophomore guard Michael Qualls said Saturday that Arkansas played with a “greedy mentality” that was missing in the Razorbacks’ Jan. 18 loss in Athens, which came after Arkansas’ 87-85 overtime victory over Kentucky on Jan. 14.
“I felt like when we played Kentucky the first time, we were satisfied,” Qualls said after Saturday’s game. “I don’t feel like anyone was satisfied with the [second] Kentucky win.”
Saturday’s game was at home, but the Hogs had less than 48 hours to recover from their 71-67 victory at RuppArena on Thursday.
“It was just a game that we need,” Qualls said, referring to Kentucky. “Just like this was a game that we need. We’re going to approach the next game the same way.”
Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said the Razorbacks (20-9, 9-7 SEC), now in a fourth-place tie with Tennessee, have come a long way since since their first meetings with Kentucky and Georgia.
“I think we’re a different team than we were then,” Anderson said. “That’s the maturity part.”
The Razorbacks, 2-6 in the SEC after losing at LSU on Feb. 1, are 7-1 in eight games since and are in position to gain their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2008 if they can finish the regular season well next week against Ole Miss and Alabama.
Winning Saturday assured Arkansas of a 20-victory season for the first time since the 2007-2008 season.
“It’s a winning locker room,” Anderson said of the Razorbacks’ attitude. “They’re going out there expecting to win.”
Anderson said the Razorbacks went to Georgia on Jan. 18, after beating Kentucky, believing they just had to show up to beat the Bulldogs.
“Georgia kind of popped them in the mouth,” Anderson said.
The Razorbacks popped the Bulldogs with a good one this time, notably in the final 5:02 of the first half on Saturday, outscoring Georgia 16-2, including six points by Coty Clarke, to take a 44-37 halftime lead.
Arkansas trailed 35-28 when Clarke got the Razorbacks going with a three-pointer. Clarke gained an assist on an alley-oop to Qualls, who was fouled Nemenja Djurisic and hit a free throw to complete a three-point play.
The Razorbacks took the lead for good, 39-36, on Rickey Scott’s three-point basket. Clarke’s three-point play after a Qualls’ steal pushed Arkansas’ lead to 44-37 with 59.3 seconds left.
Georgia went 1 of 7 fromthe field and had two turnovers in the first half’s final 4:33 after hitting 13 of its first 16 shots.
“I thought their defense just finally got to us,” Bulldogs Coach Mark Fox said. “Sometimes the result of their press is not in a direct turnover or a steal, sometimes it just changes the rhythm or wears you down.
“We didn’t finish the first half well, but give Arkansas’ defense credit for that.”
Anderson said he switched from man-to-man defense to a zone late in the half to force the Bulldogs to shoot jump shots. It also allowed the Hogs to get several fastbreak layups.
Georgia (16-12, 10-6) pulled within 65-60 with 4:43 left on two free throws by Kenny Gaines, but the Razorbacks built their lead back to 70-60 with a driving layup by Mardracus Wade and Ky Madden’s three-point basket.
The Razorbacks hit 11 of 14 free throws in the final 2:11 to clinch the victory. Clarke, a senior forward, hit 6 of 6 from the line in the final 46 seconds and finished with a career-high 23 points.
Qualls scored 20 points and juniors Madden and Alandise Harris scored eight points each. Freshman forward Bobby Portis, averaging a team-high 12.9 points coming into the game, scored a season-low 2 points on 1-of-6 shooting, but had 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocked shots.
“It just shows you the maturity in Bobby in terms of understanding basketball,” Anderson said. “He’s probably happiest for Coty.
“He was doing all the other yeoman’s work that you’ve got to do. He’s a team player.”
Gaines hit 7 of 11 shots and led Georgia with 25 points, but the rest of the Bulldogs were a combined 15 of 44 from the field. Georgia shot 28.6 percent (8 of 28) in the second half.
“We felt like they’d improved,” Fox said of the Razorbacks’ progress from when the teams played on Jan. 18. “I thought they’d be harder to guard … and their defense has always been really consistent.
“They’re playing together. Mike’s done a great job with them and they’re really hot.”
Qualls couldn’t help but smile when asked about the Razorbacks’ confidence level now.
“We feel cool,” Qualls said. “Everything’s cool.”
Arkansas men (20-9, 9-7 SEC)
DATE OPPONENT TIME/RESULT
Nov. 8 SIU-Edwardsville W, 99-65
Nov. 15 La.-Lafayette W, 76-63
Nov. 18 SMU W, 89-78
Nov. 25 California# L, 85-77
Nov. 26 Minnesota# W, 87-73
Nov. 27 Gonzaga# L, 91-81
Dec. 3 SE Louisiana W, 111-65
Dec. 7 Clemson W, 74-68
Dec. 12 Savannah St. W, 72-43
Dec. 19 Tennessee-Martin W, 102-56
Dec. 21 South Alabama% W, 72-60
Dec. 28 High Point W, 89-48
Jan. 4 Texas-San Antonio W, 104-71
Jan. 8 at Texas A&M* L, 69-53
Jan. 11 Florida* L, 84-82 (OT)
Jan. 14 Kentucky* W, 87-85 (OT)
Jan. 18 at Georgia* L, 66-61 (OT)
Jan. 22 at Tennessee* L, 81-74
Jan. 25 Auburn* W, 86-67
Jan. 28 Missouri* L, 75-71
Feb. 1 at LSU* L, 88-74
Feb. 5 Alabama* W, 65-58
Feb. 8 at Vanderbilt* W, 77-75
Feb. 13 at Missouri* L, 86-85
Feb. 15 LSU W, 81-70
Feb. 19 South Carolina* W, 71-64
Feb. 22 at Mississippi St.* W, 73-69
Feb. 27 at Kentucky* W, 71-67 (OT)
Mar. 1 Georgia* W, 87-75
Mar. 5 Ole Miss* 7 p.m.
Mar. 8 at Alabama* 3 p.m.
Mar. 12-16 SEC Tournament Atlanta
%Verizon Arena, North Little Rock
RECORDS Arkansas 20-9, 9-7 SEC; Georgia 16-12, 10-6. STARS Arkansas senior forward Coty Clarke (career-high 23 points) and sophomore forward Michael Qualls (20 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals). Georgia sophomore guard Kenny Gaines (25 points). TURNING POINT The Razorbacks outscored the Bulldogs 16-2 over the final 5:02 of the first half to take a 44-37 lead into halftime. KEY STAT Georgia made 9 of 35 shots over the final 25 minutes after starting 13 of 16.
Sports, Pages 21 on 03/02/2014