Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
Sour ending started a sweet run once
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/STATON BREIDENTHAL --3/13/14-- Arkansas' Bobby Portis (left) and Anthlon Bell leave the court after their loss to South Carolina Wednesday following their SEC Tournament game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
FAYETTEVILLE - Next season will determine if this season’s ignominious end for the Arkansas Razorbacks at the NIT on Monday night was worth their experience in Berkeley, Calif.
Given they trailed 31-8 at 5:08 of the first half, the Razorbacks salvaged a deceptively respectable 75-64 final score Monday night in their second-round loss the California Golden Bears.
While the Hogs get a B-plus for spunk mounting comebacks late in the first half and in the middle of the second half, no amount of sugar-coating can sweeten Arkansas’ sour start in Berkeley. It was reminiscent of the Hogs’ start in Tuscaloosa, Ala., where it trailed the Crimson Tide 39-16 at halftime of the final regular-season SEC game before eventually losing 83-58.
“We dug a hole early and a lot of that was because we couldn’t make shots,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said on radio following Monday’s game at Berkeley. “I thought there were times we shied away from the basket and we settled for three-point shots, and we were 1 for 12 in the first half. That’s not going to cut it, not 32 percent against a good California team playing at home.” If you think you have heard this before, it’s because you have.
Like the games in Tuscaloosa and Berkeley, Anderson’s post game radio comments reflected like mirrors, too.
“Let’s give Alabama some credit,” Anderson said in Tuscaloosa.
“They came in and kind of punched us in the mouth early on. I thought we settled for some shots. Sixteen points at half, I told our guys we have scored 16 points in a minute and a half.” Focusing just on those two games, it’s easy to call this Arkansas season disastrously regressive.
Fortunately, there is a bigger picture. At 22-12 and finishing two rounds deep in the NIT, the Razorbacks achieved Arkansas ’ first 20-victory season and first postseason tournament since the 2007-2008 Hogs.
These Hogs achieved their first home-and-home sweep of the Kentucky Wildcats, who have advanced to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16. With an overtime loss, Arkansas came closer in the SEC than anybody against SEC champion Florida, which is ranked No. 1 nationally and bound for the Sweet 16.
Although Arkansas loses five seniors, much promise returns headed by Bobby Portis, the 6-10 forward who was named second-team All-SEC and a first-team member of the All-SEC Freshman team. Other returnees include 6-10 freshman shot-blocker Moses Kingsley, forward Alandise Harris and guards Michael Qualls, Ky Madden and Anthlon Bell.
“The foundation is set,” Anderson said.
Anderson was an assistant to Nolan Richardson when the 1986-1987 Razorbacks trailed Nebraska 31-12 at halftime of their second-round NIT game that eventually ended up a 78-71 loss.
Following that loss, Arkansas advanced to nine consecutive NCAA Tournaments and in 1989 won the first of four consecutive conference championships under Richardson.
Anderson believes his Hogs have charted a similar course. If he’s correct, the taste of Monday night’s loss will be long forgotten in Arkansas.
For now, though, bombing in Berkeley reminds many of tumbling in Tuscaloosa.
Sports, Pages 16 on 03/26/2014