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.
Anderson: Ready for next phase
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson and players Ky Madden, Coty Clarke and Michael Qualls react following a loss to Vanderbilt on March 14, 2013 during the first round of the SEC Tournament at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.
FAYETTEVILLE - Mike Anderson’s goal as Arkansas’ basketball coach is to win in the NCAA Tournament, not lose in the NIT.
Anderson’s history suggests the Razorbacks’ season-ending 75-64 loss at California on Monday night in a second-round NIT game will help propel Arkansas back into the NCAA Tournament next season.
This was the fifth time Anderson was involved with the NIT as a player, assistant coach or head coach, and after the previous four times the next season his team was in the NCAA Tournament.
Tulsa played in the 1982 NCAA Tournament with Anderson as its senior starting point guard after he helped the Golden Hurricane win the 1981 NIT title.
Anderson was an Arkansas assistant when the Razorbacks played in the NIT in 1987 and 1997 and made it to the NCAA Tournament a year later.
In Anderson’s first season as a head coach at Alabama-Birmingham, the Blazers played in the 2003 NIT. The next year they were in the NCAA Tournament.
Anderson, who has a 59-39 record in three seasons at Arkansas, said after the Cal loss a foundation has been set for sustained success.
The NIT was the Razorbacks’ first postseason appearance since the 2008 NCAA Tournament. They finished 22-12 after going 18-14and 19-13 in Anderson’s first two season. They are a combined 20-16 in SEC play the past two seasons after being 6-10 his first season.
“If you look at what’s taken place from the first year we got there until right now, obviously it’s a positive move in the right direction,” Anderson said. “We want to be playing for national championships in the NCAA, but we can use it as a springboard.”
Arkansas’ five-year drought between postseason appearances was its longest since prior to Eddie Sutton’s arrival as coach in 1974.
Arkansas went to the NCAA Tournament 22 times in a 25-year period in 1977-2001, spanning nine of Sutton’s last 11 seasons and 13 of Nolan Richardson’s first 16 seasons as coach.
The Razorbacks have made just three NCAA Tournament appearances in the past 13 years - in 2006-2008 - under Stan Heath and John Pelphrey.
“What we’ve done this year is we’ve put Razorback basketball back on the map,” senior guard Kikko Haydar said. “These guys, they’ll get it done.
“Our senior group, we set the foundation and now it’s up to them to finish the job. It’s definitely sad to be done, but there’s hope for the future.”
Haydar is among five seniors on the team, but six of the Razorbacks’ top seven scorers this season have eligibility remaining.
Junior guard Ky Madden averaged a team-high 12.7 points per game and had 91 assists, and freshman forward Bobby Portis averaged 12.3 points and a team-high 6.8 rebounds with 50 blocked shots. Other key contributors were sophomore forward Michael Qualls (11.6 points, 4.6 rebounds), junior forward Alandise Harris (9.0 points), sophomore guard Anthlon Bell (7.2 points) and freshman center Moses Kingsley (4.0 points, 3.2 rebounds, 49 blocked shots).
“It gives our team and our state hope that Razorback basketball is back,” Portis said.
Portis, a second-team All-SEC pick, said he will return to Arkansas for his sophomore season rather than explore entering the NBA Draft.
Anderson said he’s excited about what Arkansas has coming back.
“Now these guys got achance to taste what postseason is all about, and hopefully when you get to the other tournament it’s a neutral site,” Anderson said. “We’re talking about taking it to the next level.”
Arkansas signed three high school players last fall - point guard Anton Beard, forward Trey Thompson and shooting guard Nick Babb - and has a commitment from Seminole (Okla.) State Junior College point guard Jabril Durham this spring.
Anderson on his postgame radio show thanked the seniors - Haydar, Coty Clarke, Fred Gulley, Rickey Scott and Mardracus Wade - for their contributions to the program and helping push it forward.
“We’re talking about NCAA Tournament, we’re talking about championships,” Anderson said. “I think they set the tone for what’s going to take place.
“All across the country now, there’s respect for the Razorback program again.”
DATE OPPONENT TIME/RESULT
Nov. 8 SIU-Edwardsville W, 99-65
Nov. 15 La.-Lafayette W, 76-63
Nov. 18 SMU W, 89-78
Nov. 25 California# L, 85-77
Nov. 26 Minnesota# W, 87-73
Nov. 27 Gonzaga# L, 91-81
Dec. 3 SE Louisiana W, 111-65
Dec. 7 Clemson W, 74-68
Dec. 12 Savannah St. W, 72-43
Dec. 19 Tennessee-Martin W, 102-56
Dec. 21 South Alabama% W, 72-60
Dec. 28 High Point W, 89-48
Jan. 4 Texas-San Antonio W, 104-71
Jan. 8 at Texas A&M* L, 69-53
Jan. 11 Florida* L, 84-82 (OT)
Jan. 14 Kentucky* W, 87-85 (OT)
Jan. 18 at Georgia* L, 66-61 (OT)
Jan. 22 at Tennessee* L, 81-74
Jan. 25 Auburn* W, 86-67
Jan. 28 Missouri* L, 75-71
Feb. 1 at LSU* L, 88-74
Feb. 5 Alabama* W, 65-58
Feb. 8 at Vanderbilt* W, 77-75
Feb. 13 at Missouri* L, 86-85
Feb. 15 LSU W, 81-70
Feb. 19 South Carolina* W, 71-64
Feb. 22 at Mississippi St.* W, 73-69
Feb. 27 at Kentucky* W, 71-67 (OT)
Mar. 1 Georgia* W, 87-75
Mar. 5 Mississippi* W, 110-80
Mar. 8 at Alabama* L, 83-58
Mar. 13 South Carolina^ L, 71-69
Mar. 18 Indiana State& W, 91-71
Mar. 24 at California& L, 75-64 #Maui Invitational %Verizon Arena, North Little Rock *SEC game ^SEC Tournament, Atlanta &NIT game
Sports, Pages 19 on 03/26/2014