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.
3 come off pine to play key role
Arkansas guard Anthlon Bell gets high fives from his teammates as he leaves the game in the second half of Wednesday night's game against Ole Miss at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - As various times this season, Arkansas guards Mardracus Wade, Anthlon Bell and Rickey Scott have appeared to be hopelessly buried on the bench.
But after the three combined for 11 games in which they didn’t play, they’ve come back strong to help the surging Razorbacks (21-9, 10-7 SEC) make a run for an NCAA Tournament bid as Arkansas prepares to close the regular season at Alabama (12-18, 6-11) on Saturday.
While some players might quit - or at least mope - if they didn’t play for a couple of games or were only in for two or three minutes, Razorbacks Coach Mike Anderson has managed to get key minutes from Wade, Bell and Scott after holding them out.
“I just keep telling them their time might be coming,” Anderson said. “They may be sulking there, but if your name’s called and you don’t go out and perform, then obviously you’re letting the team down.
“I think this team has really created a bond.”
Bell, a sophomore, has averaged 14.2 points in the past four games - which included scoring a career-high 23 points in the Razorbacks’ 110-80 victory over Ole Miss on Wednesday night and 19 in their 73-67 victory at Mississippi State - after combining to score four points in the prior seven games, including sitting out against Vanderbilt and LSU and playing two minutes at Missouri.
Wade, a senior who had a season-high 18 points against Ole Miss, has added perimeter defense and is averaging 7.9 points and 20.9 minutes during the past eight games to help the Razorbacks go 7-1. He’s hit 11 of 23 three-pointers in that span after being 2 of 11 on the season, which included sitting out games against Clemson, Savannah State and Florida and averaging 9.9 minutes in his first 22 games played.
Scott, a senior, hadn’t played in three consecutive games before he scored five points in the first half of Arkansas’ 87-75 victory over Georgia last Saturday. He hit his second three-point basket of the season - and first since Dec. 19 against Tennessee-Martin - to give the Razorbacks the lead for good at 39-36.
Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings, whose team is down to seven scholarship players because of dismissals, injuries and suspensions, marveled at the contributions Anderson and the Razorbacks are getting from players who earlier this season weren’t part of the rotation.
“That’s awesome,” Stallings said. “I wish you could tell Mike that if he doesn’t need some of those guys to send them to me. We would like to have that problem.
“They’ve bought in, they’re playing very well. They’re on an incredible run right now, so obviously guys are staying ready for when their number’s called, and that’s a tremendous credit to the coaching staff.”
Wade has played 2,609 minutes for the Razorbacks in 122 games, Scott has played 1,616 minutes in 98 games and Bell has played 717 minutes in 57 games.
“I think it’s a real advantage to be able to bring guys in off the bench who have played lots of basketball and practiced lots of basketball over the years,” Georgia Coach Mark Fox said. “They’re different than the typical bench player because they have so much experience and maturity.
“It’s a real weapon for Arkansas to be able to go that deep, and it’s certainly a credit to those kids for staying engaged.”
Anderson said senior guard Kikko Haydar, a team captain, has helped set the tone for the Razorbacks by always being ready regardless of how many minutes he plays. Haydar is averaging 12.7 minutes, slightly less than what he averaged as a sophomore (13.3) and junior (12.8).
“Kikko has been like our sixth man for quite a while, been the first guard off the bench, but that hasn’t happened here lately,” Anderson said. “But when he’s called upon, he’s ready to play.
“I think that resonates with our team.”
Haydar played seven minutes in the Razorbacks’ 71-67 victory at Kentucky last week, where he hit two free throws with 17 seconds left in overtime to give Arkansas its four point margin.
“That’s our whole philosophy,” Haydar said of players being ready when called on. “We’re going to play a lot of guys, and sometimes it’s not going to be your game. Sometimes you’re not going to play.
“But then other times, Coach is going to go down the bench, call your name, and you’d better be ready to go.”
Haydar said players are able to stay sharp - even if they’re not playing much in games - thanks to Arkansas’ intense practices.
“We practice hard every day, so just because people don’t play in a game doesn’t mean they haven’t played in a long time,” Haydar said. “We scrimmage every day. Guys stay ready.”
Up next ARKANSAS AT ALABAMA
WHEN 3 p.m. Central on Saturday WHERE Coleman Coliseum, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
RECORDS Arkansas 21-9, 10-7 SEC; Alabama 12-11, 6-11 TELEVISION None RADIO Razorback Sports Network.
THURSDAY’S GAME LSU 57, Vanderbilt 51 SATURDAY’S GAMES All times Central Kentucky at Florida, 11 a.m.
Vanderbilt at Mississippi, 12:30 p.m.
Arkansas at Alabama, 3 p.m.
Auburn at Texas A&M, 3 p.m.
Missouri at Tennessee, 3 p.m.
South Carolina at Mississippi St., 3 p.m. Georgia at LSU, 4 p.m.
End of regular season
Sports, Pages 19 on 03/07/2014