Bell re-emerges in time for Cal

By: Bob Holt
Published: Sunday, March 23, 2014
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.
Photo by Michael Woods
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 - Arkansas guard Anthlon Bell hit 4 of 10 three-pointers when the Razorbacks last played California, four months ago in Maui, Hawaii.

He’s shooting even better now.

Bell, a sophomore from Memphis, has hit 20 of 39 three-pointers (51.3 percent) in the past seven games for Arkansas (22-11), which is preparing for a rematch with the Bears (20-13) in a second-round NIT game Monday night in Berkeley, Calif.

Included in that seven-game stretch are three career-high totals - 19 points at Mississippi State, 23 against Ole Miss and 28 against Indiana State.

“I think he’s playing with a lot of confidence, and our guys are playing with a lot of confidence in him,” Razorbacks Coach Mike Anderson said. “I mean, he’s got a nice rhythm going.”

Bell started the season well, hitting 16 of 42 three-pointers (38.1 percent) and averaging 11.2 points the first six games, including 16 points in the Razorbacks’ 85-77 loss to California in their Maui Invitational opener. Over the next 20 games - including sitting out games at Vanderbilt and at home against LSU - Bell hit 13 of 64 three-pointers (20.3 percent) as his scoring average fell to 5.7 points.

Anderson said Bell, who as a freshman averaged 4.4 points and 9.2 minutes, struggled to handle the success he enjoyed the first few games this season.

“We talk about staying humble and hungry,” Anderson said. “Maybe he can understand it a little more now. It’s just something you’ve got to go through.

“He had a chance to sit down on the bench a few times. He had to compete, so it’s good to see him come out and help this team.”

Bell said he didn’t get down on himself during his struggles and made sure to keep getting lots of shots in practice so he could be ready when Anderson called on him again to play a bigger role.

“Over the season, I’ve matured a lot,” said Bell, who is averaging 7.3 points in 15.8minutes in 31 games. “Because of that, I can keep on playing well as the process goes along.”

Bell scored 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting in the first half of the Razorbacks’ 91-71 first round victory over Indiana State on Tuesday to give them a 37-31 lead before his teammates got on track offensively.

“He’s back in a good shooting state of mind,” Arkansas junior guard Ky Madden said. “He’s getting his confidence back up. He’s always had it in him.

“Everybody goes through a little shooting slump, but we’re glad we’ve got him back.”

Bell hit 4 of 6 three-pointers against Indiana State and was 5 of 5 on shots inside the arc, including a tip-in basket on a miss by Bobby Portis.

Bell finished with a career-high six against the Sycamores. He was surprised when teammate Kikko Haydar told him at halftime he had four rebounds.

“I was like, ‘OK,’ ” said Bell. who is averaging 1.2 rebounds per game. “But I was just out there playing. I didn’t even notice it.”

Cal’s defense is sure to take notice of Bell considering how he played in the teams’ first match up and with the way he’s regained his shooting touch.

“With Anthlon shooting like that, it’s going to for sure open up the floor for us,” Arkansas senior guard Mardracus Wade said. “Guys are going to tend to double him, so we can have the inside game going. We can have cuts and curls going.”

Bell said that he felt good in warmups before the teams played in Maui, and it carried over to the game.

“If it’s my night again, it’s my night again,” Bell said. “Of course, my confidence is up, but I have to take it one game at a time.”

Bell played a career-high 31 minutes against Indiana State when he found out he was starting shortly before tip off.

Anderson said he had a gut feeling Bell would play well, and he figured the Sycamores would play a zone, which they did.

“It surprised me,” Bell said. “But I was ready to play.”

Sports, Pages 28 on 03/23/2014