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:
UA does what it has to do to beat Georgia
Arkansas' Mike Anderson coaches from the bench Saturday, March 1, 2014, during the second half of the game at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
An exciting game turned into a free-throw shooting contest in the last 5:34, but the Arkansas Razorbacks moved a little closer to the NCAA Tournament by downing Georgia 87-75 on Saturday at Walton Arena.
It might have been difficult for the NCAA Tournament selection committee to invite the Hogs if they had lost twice to Georgia, but the Razorbacks escaped that scenario thanks to their defense and the ability to make free throws, and with two games remaining they are still in the running to get a double-bye in the SEC Tournament.
The Razorbacks are 9-7 in SEC play and 20-9 overall, the first time they’ve won 20 games since the 2007-08 season. Free-throw shooting played a big part in Saturday’s victory just as it did when Arkansas made 16 of 16 in Thursday’s victory at Kentucky.
Arkansas made 26 of 36 from the line Saturday - 11 of 14 over the final 2:11 - as it won for the seventh time in eight games. That’s the best regular-season stretch in SEC play since the 1997-98 season, which ended with an NCAA Tournament loss to Utah, which lost in the championship game to Kentucky.
It might not be a coincidence that this Arkansas hotstreak began after Michael Qualls and Alandis Harris were reinstated to the team after being suspended and not making the Feb. 1 trip to LSU, which beat Arkansas to drop the Razorbacks to 2-6 in the conference.
Qualls has been much more consistent in the time since, including a 20-point game Saturday. Harris added eight off the bench, including a dunk off an alley-oop pass from Ky Madden with 1:11 to play that gave the Razorbacks a 76-65 lead.
The Razorbacks looked ready to put away the Bulldogs much earlier when they led 60-45 with 12:04 to play, but their shot selection suddenly went south for spring break and Georgia scrapped and clawed to get back in the game at 65-60 with 4:43 to play.
The Bulldogs outscored the Razorbacks 15-5 to close the gap, but it was more of a stroll than a run, taking almost eight minutes, and Arkansas pulled away in the final five minutes.
Georgia started the game red hot, making 13 of its first 16 from the floor, but Arkansas’ defense was relentless and the longer the game went, the more the Bulldogs struggled to score field goals.
The final half was more of a slugfest after a first half that was a walk down memory lane for the Razorbacks. Nolan Richardson might not have been on the court directing the team, but it was a team that could have played for him.
Georgia was almost flawless in the first 15 minutes and led 35-28 in front of a hostile sold-out crowd, but the Hogs fed off the support of the Razorbacks Nation, outscoring Georgia 16-2 to close the first half and lead 44-37 at the break.
Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson did a masterful job on the bench. He always seemed to have the Razorbacks in the right defense while alternating players to make sure there were always fresh legs in the game, a challenge since Arkansas was playing less than 48 hours after beating Kentucky in overtime.
It was Coty Clarke’s second three-pointer of the first half, with 5:00 to play, that fueled a full-court press, and the Bulldogs simply couldn’t keep up with the all-out sprint by the Razorbacks.
Qualls scored two and then converted an alley-oop assist from Clarke for two, was fouled, and completed the three-point play to give Arkansas a 36-35 lead.
By the time Clarke converted another three-point play to make it 44-37 with 59 seconds to play in the half, Georgia was getting tired, finishing the half 2 of 8 from the field and missing both of its free-throw attempts.
Arkansas’ offense was flying off its jet-fueled defense, and Georgia did everything it could to control the tempo in the second half.
The Bulldogs had some success, but in the end, a very tired but game group of Razorbacks had moved closer to the NCAA Tournament.
Sports, Pages 21 on 03/02/2014