It looks like UA may get high seed after all

By: Wally Hall
Published: Friday, March 14, 2014
Arkansas' Kikko Haydar (left), Manuale Watkins (middle) and Fred Gulley III watch the closing seconds or their loss to South Carolina at the SEC Tournament at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Arkansas' Kikko Haydar (left), Manuale Watkins (middle) and Fred Gulley III watch the closing seconds or their loss to South Carolina at the SEC Tournament at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

ATLANTA - Ky Madden lined up and launched an almost perfect 40-foot shot.

It was about 5:40 p.m. in a long afternoon, and the Arkansas Razorbacks were trailing South Carolina - the No. 13 seed in the SEC Tournament and No. 147 in the RPI - 71-69.

After almost 40 minutes of a free throw shooting contest - nothing resembling an actual game ever really broke out - Madden’s 40-foot shot was an inch or two long and bounced off the back rim. In that instant, the Hogs may have become a No. 1 seed … in the NIT.

If so, they will play at home where they are tougher than a new bride’s biscuits.

More than likely any chance the once hot Hogs had of making March Madness was wiped out Thursday. Losing your final two games of the season doesn’t bode well for a team that won only three road games all season.

Losses to Alabama last Saturday and to South Carolina on Thursday won’t sit well with the NCAA Tournament selection committee.

It will be easy for some to claim the officiating hurt the Hogs, but it would be more accurate to say in the final analysis that it was more about what South Carolina did than anything the Razorbacks didn’t do, although they have their share of the blame.

Michael Qualls summed up the Razorbacks’ problems as “mental errors,” and no one is going to argue with him about that, or the fact that a team can’t let an opponent grab 15 offensive rebounds while getting only 24 total itself.

Down the stretch with the game on the line, South Carolina did what Arkansas is known for doing. It played in-your-face defense.

The Hogs had five more field goals and six fewer turnovers, but the Gamecocks controlled the tempo, played defense with all their hearts and simply dared the Hogs to shoot jumpers in the second half. The Razorbacks were happy to do that, but knocked down only 6 of 18.

South Carolina took it to the Hogs, driving into the paint and picking up 28 fouls that sent the Gamecocks to the free-throw line, where they made 30 of 41. They missed four of their last five, but that was when Coach Frank Martin went with a smaller, quicker lineup that hogged the ball and clogged the paint.

Besides Madden’s long three-pointer, the Hogs ran a perfectly executed play that started with 16.2 seconds remaining and the Razorbacks trailing 70-69. They passed the ball to Bobby Portis down low, but he drew a double team that forced him out of position and he missed the shot, which allowed South Carolina to grab its 40th rebound of the game.

A game effort by South Carolina allowed it to stay in the game and find a way to win it less than 24 hours after it knocked off Auburn and got Tony Barbee fired.

Martin should have plenty of job security after winning his second SEC Tournament game with a team that consisted of 4 freshmen (3 starters), 4 sophomores and 1 senior.

After 15 ties and 21 rebounds, it was South Carolina’s defense that shut down the Hogs over the last 2:20 after Michael Qualls’ driving layup had given the Razorbacks a 69-66 lead and brought the small but faithful crowd to their feet.

The Gamecocks converted only five of their last 10 free throws, but in that stretch the Hogs missed two jumpers and had two turnovers and never made it to the free-throw line in a league known for calling fouls.

The Razorbacks were one and done for the sixth consecutive time in the SEC Tournament, but this time their postseason hopes probably didn’t die with their elimination.

Arkansas won six in a row late in the season and was penciled in on most people’s NCAA Tournament brackets, but Thursday night it probably became a top-rated NIT team because of that late streak and its sweep of Kentucky.

Sports, Pages 19 on 03/14/2014