Harris in rare air after turnover-free road effort

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Monday, January 7, 2019
Arkansas guard Jalen Harris (5) drives to the basket while being defended by Texas-San Antonio guard Adokiye Iyaye (11) during the first half of the Razorbacks' 79-67 win on Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018, at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock.
Photo by Thomas Metthe
Arkansas guard Jalen Harris (5) drives to the basket while being defended by Texas-San Antonio guard Adokiye Iyaye (11) during the first half of the Razorbacks' 79-67 win on Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018, at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock.

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas junior forward Adrio Bailey wishes he would have played with a point guard like Jalen Harris in high school. Dunks and point-blank looks would have been easier to come by.

Harris, in his most recent flawless floor game against Texas A&M, finished with a team-high 15 points - tying a career-high - and nine assists without a turnover. Saturday marked the third time in his first season with the Razorbacks that Harris totaled at least seven assists in a game with zero miscues.

"Playing with a point guard like Jalen ... he's my dream point guard," Bailey said Monday with a smile as Harris sat to his right in the Bud Walton Arena interview room. "He can score when he wants to, distributes and makes plays. He's the point guard I always wanted, and now that I've got him we can only go up from here."

Had Harris assisted on one more Arkansas bucket against the Aggies it would have given him his third points-assists double-double in 13 games. Despite not reaching that mark, he remains in some rarified air.

On Saturday, Harris became the first Razorbacks guard to finish with seven-plus assists and zero turnovers in 30-plus minutes in a road win since at least the 2010-11 season, which more than covers Mike Anderson's tenure at Arkansas.

"I thought he took control out there," Anderson said of Harris after the win. "I thought that was going to be a big key to the game. We have to have someone settle us down when the adversity comes. He was that guy and he was the catalyst out here."

This preseason, Anderson compared Harris' mix of speed and ballhandling to former Razorbacks guard Kareem Reid, who averaged better than five assists per game in each of his four seasons at Arkansas.

Another name that came to Anderson's mind on Monday was Jabril Durham. Durham totaled 10-plus assists in seven games his senior season as he averaged better than six per game. In 2015-16, Durham finished 16th nationally in assist rate, according to KenPom analytics, assisting on 37 percent of Arkansas' scores when on the floor.

Going back to his first stop as a head coach, Anderson recalled former UAB guard Carldell 'Squeaky' Johnson as another comparison to Harris. Johnson, in 2005-06, was 23rd nationally in assist rate (34.4 percent) for the Blazers and helped lead the program to three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.

"He was really good with the basketball," Anderson said of Johnson. "And Lee Mayberry. I mean, Lee Mayberry went 10-12 games where he didn’t have a turnover, so that tells you they take pride in valuing the basketball and getting other guys involved."

Harris, back to No. 2 nationally in assist-turnover ratio at 6.36:1, is certainly in the mix with some of the best guards Anderson has coached in terms of playing mistake-free basketball for long stretches. He's already notched four games without a turnover - playing at least 28 minutes in each - and has been in and under control offensively for a young team away from home.

Harris has 21 assists against two turnovers in the Razorbacks' two true road games this season.

The sophomore added on Monday that he does some experimental passing in practice. Whatever he sees, he tries to attack and advance the ball, even if it is something of a risky pass. The confidence Anderson has instilled in him this season and throughout his redshirt year gives him the courage to take chances. And he knows his limits.

"If it works against my guys then I know it'll work in a game because they know what I like to do and they read basically what I read," Harris said. "Just knowing if I can do it in practice then I know I can carry it over into a game."

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