Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a past president and member of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
LIKE IT IS:
Hawgball takes everyone being on same page
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson directs his team against Indiana State during the second half Tuesday, March 18, 2014, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
There were many familiar sights Monday night. Too many in some cases.
The good was Mike Anderson lost his coat and became entrenched with pointing, gesturing, encouraging and coaxing his players. When they listened, whether it was in Maui, California or any other place they competed, they played better and were able to turn a blowout into a respectable loss.
When they didn’t listen, when they didn’t have the defensive intensity that sparks their offense, they didn’t look good.
In the first half, when the game was lost, the Hogs had a stretch of eight-plus minutes that would have left many coaches imploding all over ESPN. Anderson kept his composure.
In that span the Hogs were 0 for 14 from the field, including 0 for 6 from behind the three-point line. That’s a shot every 36 seconds. That’s a lot of missed shots.
They also missed two free throws and had two turnovers.
Meanwhile, California was 7 of 10 from the field, and five of those baskets came with an assist. In other words, team ball. As in more than one pass before taking a shot. Sometimes the Hogs didn’t make a single pass.
To further illustrate just how flat the Razorbacks were, in that same span the Bears had four turnovers but the Hogs failed to capitalize on any of them, missing four layups. For the game - because the Hogs did play pressure defense sometimes - California had 16 turnovers to the Razorbacks’ 5, but Cal had 22 assists to Arkansas’ 13.
The Bears played 40 minutes like a team. Arkansas did not. Again.
Some fans want to blame Anderson. This is his third season, and he still has no SEC Tournament victories or NCAA Tournament bids.
What some people don’t seem to understand is how broken the program was when he arrived.
At some point this season every senior contributed, but Coty Clarke averaged 9.4 points per game and the other four combined for an average of 13.5.
Anderson needs to find better shooters and players who are more team-oriented, guys who get it that the offense starts with the defense. He needs more guys who look at the same zone they have seen so many times this year and don’t start throwing up threes. Guys who don’t celebrate a field goal when the team is trailing by 18 points.
Cal never trailed, led by 24 in the second half and was never out of control, never in a hurry and never truly rattled by the Razorbacks’ defense, because it wasn’t intense enough until too late.
Monday night’s game was like too much of the season - disappointing for the Razorbacks Nation.
Granted, the six-game winning streak late in the season, which included three victories on the road and beating Kentucky, shows improvement. So does getting invited to the NIT, which no matter how you try to justify its existence has run its course.
Losing to Alabama, South Carolina and Cal in three of the last four games was more like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown again.
The Razorbacks finished the season 22-12, 10-8 in SEC play. They were 17-2 at home, 3-7 on the road and 2-3 at neutral sites.
Considering Stan Heath was 18-12 and 6-10 his third season and John Pelphrey was 14-18 and 7-9, it isn’t hard to argue that Anderson is moving in the right direction.
Now he faces one of the toughest parts of his job - evaluations.
He has to look at every player who is returning, consider every recruit and figure out the best chemistry, because Hawgball has to have unity.
If someone doesn’t fit, if there is someone who doesn’t get along with the players or the coaching staff, then Anderson has to help him find a place he will be happier.
No accusations meant in that, but every coach has to face tough decisions. It is one of the reasons they are paid so well.
Sports, Pages 19 on 03/26/2014