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.
UA coach sees game as gauge
Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson gestures while giving instructions to his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against California at the Maui Invitational basketball tournament on Monday, Nov. 25, 2013, in Lahaina, Hawaii. (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)
FAYETTEVILLE - When California played Arkansas earlier this season, the Bears won with starting center Richard Solomon playing half the game because of foul problems.
Tonight the Bears (20-13) will see if they can beat the Razorbacks (22-11) with Solomon not playing at all.
Cal Coach Mike Montgomery said Sunday that Solomon, a 6-10 senior averaging 11.0 points and a Pac-12 Conference-leading 10.2 rebounds, has not been cleared medically to play because ofa concussion and will miss Arkansas’ second-round NIT game against the Bears in Haas Pavilion.
Tipoff is 10 p.m. Central time and the game will be televised by ESPN2.
Solomon had 11 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocked shots in20 minutes in the Bears’ 85-77 victory over Arkansas in the Maui Invitational on Nov. 25.
But the Bears won their NIT opener 77-64 over Utah Valley with Solomon sidelined. Montgomery said Solomon sustained the concussion at home, but he hasn’t been specific on how it happened.
Jabari Bird, a 6-6 freshman guard, will replace Solomon in the starting lineup for Cal.
“We’ll play small ball,” Bird said. “We can keep up with Arkansas’ pace better, I guess.
“We’ll probably have four guards out there a lot, and we’ll just run up and down the court and play our game.”
Cal is led by senior point guard Justin Cobbs, who is averaging 15.7 points and 5.8 assists, and will have to rely on 6-9 junior David Kravish as its major inside presence.
Kravish contributed 19 points, 15 rebounds and 3 blocked shots in 35 minutes against Arkansas in Maui, with some of his baskets coming when the Bears broke through the Razorbacks’ pressure defense.
“I think we handled the pressure really well,” said Kravish, who hit 8 of 12 shots. “Once we broke the press, we were able to get some easy baskets. I think that will be a key again for us.”
The Bears outrebounded the Razorbacks 48-32 and outscored them 24-10 on second-chance points.
Bobby Portis, Arkansas’ 6-10 freshman shot 1 of 5 from the field and finished with 5 points and 1 rebound in 28 minutes. He was so upset after the game that he called Razorbacks Coach Mike Anderson so they could meet to talk about how Portis could improve.
Portis went on to earn second-team All-SEC honors and is averaging 12.3 points and 6.7 rebounds.
“He was eager to find out what could he do to be better,” Anderson said of his talk with Portis after the Cal game.
Anderson said Portis started to blossom as a player going against big men in the SEC such as Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes, Kentucky’s Julius Randle and LSU’s Johnny O’Bryant.
“He’s nowhere near what he’s going to be, but he’s gotten better,” Anderson said. “He’s like a sponge. He takes to criticism as well as the coaching. He wants to be a student of the game.
“So now that gives him the opportunity to show that he has improved since that particular game.”
Anderson stressed tonight’s game is not just an opportunity for Portis to show how far he’s come since the loss to Cal, but for all of the Razorbacks.
“When you talk about those guys beating us on the boards, it’s our whole team,” Anderson said. “That has got to be a focal point of our guys.”
The Razorbacks are hoping to get the kind of rebounding help from their guards tonight as they had in their 91-71 victory over Indiana State in the NIT opener.
Arkansas outrebounded Indiana State 46-32 while getting 6 rebounds from 6-3 Antlon Bell, 5 from 6-5 Ky Madden, 3 from 6-2 Fred Gulley and 2 from 5-10 Kikko Haydar.
“All the guards have to come in and help the bigs rebound,” Madden said. “We’ve got to rebound together as a team.”
The Razorbacks said they weren’t looking past Indiana State to a rematch against Cal, but they’re excited about it.
“Of course you want another shot,” Bell said. “It’s just a natural instinct. We’ve got them now, and we’re ready to play.”
NIT second round
ARKANSAS AT CALIFORNIA
WHEN 10 p.m. Central today WHERE Haas Pavilion, Berkeley, Calif.
RECORDS Arkansas 22-11, California 20-13 TV ESPN2 RADIO Razorback Sports Network
Sports, Pages 13 on 03/24/2014