5 Observations from Arkansas' 87-68 win over Alabama

By: Jimmy Carter
Published: Thursday, February 2, 2017
Arkansas guard Jaylen Barford (left) drives against Alabama guard Dazon Ingram Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017, during the first half of play in Bud Walton Arena.
( Andy Shupe)
Arkansas guard Jaylen Barford (left) drives against Alabama guard Dazon Ingram Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017, during the first half of play in Bud Walton Arena.

— Five observations, with video, from Arkansas' 87-68 win over Alabama.

— Pressure keys everything

The 87 points Arkansas scored were the most Alabama has allowed this season. The Crimson Tide entered the game second in SEC play with a 94.6 defensive rating. The Hogs put together a stellar 117.6 offensive rating on Wednesday.

The offense was good, but it all started with the Razorbacks’ performance on the other end of the court. The Hogs played with a newfound intensity on defense after an embarrassing 99-71 loss at Oklahoma State on Saturday. Their pressure made Alabama uncomfortable all game. Defense led to offense as Arkansas scored 19 fast-break points and 28 points off turnovers. It's easier to score on a good defense when said defense can't get set.

Arkansas was a mess on offense in the first half, but the Hogs held a 35-27 halftime lead because they forced 10 Alabama turnovers and held the Crimson Tide to 40 percent shooting.

The Razorbacks scored all 19 of their fast-break points and 19 of their 28 points off turnovers in the second half, blowing the game open with a 24-6 run predicated on defense, a spurt featuring arguably the most entertaining basketball the Hogs have played this year. Especially this sequence:

Adrio Bailey is a special athlete and Jaylen Barford is a highlight waiting to happen.

The Hogs harassed Alabama’s young guards all night long, often showing its bigs aggressively against the pick-and-roll and blitzing Alabama ballhandlers hard. Here, Trey Thompson shows, sliding effectively and forcing Riley Norris to the sideline as Macon springs the trap, forcing a bad pass and turnover.

Alabama turned the ball over on nearly a quarter of its possessions, a gargantuan number even for a team that entered the evening ranked 12th in SEC play with a 20.5 turnover percentage. For Arkansas, the effort represented the second time in a week (Vanderbilt) it has forced turnovers on better than 21 percent of its opponents possessions, no small feat given it entered Wednesday ranked near the bottom of the conference at just 16.9 percent in league play.

The Hogs ramped up the pressure Wednesday. In addition to blitzing pick-and-rolls, the Hogs also doubled Crimson Tide bigs on the touch. Alabama didn't handle either tactic well. The Crimson Tide often had trouble getting off decent shots even on possessions they avoided coughing up the rock.

Alabama’s freshman backcourt of Dazon Ingram and Braxton Key did not handle the pressure well. They turned it over a combined 7 times and Alabama’s entire offensive flow was thrown off as a result of their struggles when the Hogs sped them up.

It made sense to pressure the Crimson Tide. No one on Alabama’s roster can come close to matching what OSU’s Juwan Evans did Saturday when he pierced the Hogs repeatedly as OSU put together a sky-high 139.4 offensive rating. Alabama mustered a measly 93.2. Hard to win any games when your offense is that inept.

The pressure also kept Alabama from getting cozy enough to potentially exploit the Razorbacks with its size advantage.

Arkansas still has to prove it can defend against good guards, but Wednesday was a step in the right direction and a bounce-back performance after the debacle in Stillwater.

— Barford sparks second-half rout

Jaylen Barford didn’t craft a great first-half follow-up to the career-high 21 points he scored Saturday at Oklahoma State.

Barford didn’t score in the opening 20 minutes against Alabama, missing all 4 of his shots, both of his 3-pointers and both of his free throws. But — as he has on a regular basis since SEC play began — he sparked the team by going on a solo run, taking over and scoring 9 straight points over the course of 80 seconds to turn a 6-point game into a 48-36 lead for the Hogs. Alabama never got within single digits again and the Hogs were up by 20 shortly thereafter.

Barford hit 6 of 8 shots and scored all 13 of his points after halftime. His ability to take over games for key stretches has been a big boost during the Hogs’ five-game SEC winning streak. Saturday, his personal run sparked a 52-point second half against one of the SEC's top defenses.

Shades of Dirk with the one-legged fadeaway.

His ability to contort his body, change his shot in mid-air and absorb context is superb. He’s turned highlight-reel finishes into an everyday thing.

When his jumper is falling, he’s tough to check.

More hounding Arkansas defense sets up that turnover and sets the stage for a vintage Barford and-1.

It isn’t a surprise anymore when Barford takes charge and changes the complexion of a game with his gusto and mini-runs. He’s done it since the calendar turned over to 2017.

— Hannahs goes off

There’s been a lot of talk about nuclear options as it relates to politics in the news lately. Dusty Hannahs went nuclear in the second half Wednesday.

The senior guard hit 4 of his career high-tying 5 3-pointers in a 5-minute span after halftime and his only miss was blocked. Even that play wound up a positive when he got the ball back and canned a 3 seconds later.

Arkansas did a great job finding Hannahs against a scrambling defense in transition. He was scorching by the time he took that last 3 from Farmington.

Hannahs finished with 19 points in 17 minutes, knocking down 7 of 9 from the floor and 5 of 6 from 3-point range. He made a big impact off the bench despite tying the least amount of minutes he’s played this year.

The shooting display was a welcome sign after Hannahs went a combined 0 of 9 from 3 against Vanderbilt and Oklahoma State last week. He’s hitting a very solid 39 percent of his 3s in SEC play.

He wasn’t the only one who got hot from beyond the arc.

The Hogs hit a 11 of 23 from 3-point range, setting their season-high for makes and tying it for attempts. Arkansas being able to generate so many open looks against a good defense was an encouraging development. The Hogs got a number of shots off in transition, but also found seams in the halfcourt.

Arkansas has gone away from featuring Moses Kingsley in the post, a sensible move given the inefficient results that has produced this season. Wednesday, Arkansas had just 3 possessions end in Kingsley post-ups (2 fouls, 1 turnover). But here, he uses Alabama’s double-team to find an open Manny Watkins for a corner 3.

Cash money. Watkins is 7 of 14 from 3-point range the last 5 games. The question at this point is what took him so long to start taking 3s.

He can’t hit here, but Anton Beard does a great job getting into the paint and collapsing the defense to set up the corner 3. The Hogs made the defense work more than they did last week (more on that in a bit).

Daryl Macon hit 3 of 4 from 3-point range, bumping him up to a sturdy 41.7 percent in SEC play. Arkansas has good shooters on the roster. The Hogs are much better when they make springing them for looks a focal point.

— Bailey ready for bigger role?

Adrio Bailey may be working his way toward a bigger role. That may have been the biggest development Wednesday.

The bouncy 6-foot-6 freshman got real rotation minutes in both halves, playing 11 in all. He was more productive than the 2 upperclassmen ahead of him in comparable time:

Adrio Bailey: 7 points (3-3 FG, 1-3 FT), 3 rebounds (1 off, plus a tip-out that extended a possession), 1 block, 1 steal, 11 minutes (+9)

Dustin Thomas: 2 points (1-4 FG, 0-2 FT), 5 rebounds (2 off), 2 steals, 1 assist, 13 minutes (+15)

Arlando Cook: 2 points (1-1 FG) 1 rebound (off), 2 turnovers, 11 minutes (-3)

He teamed up with Barford to provide the night’s biggest highlight.

He has next-level hops, which he also showed off on the defensive end.

He hasn’t been a big shot blocker so far, but he’s been better than Thomas or Cook and averaged nearly 4 a game as a senior in high school. His length and athleticism allow him to be a factor around the rim defensively.

That’s 2 straight solid performances for Bailey, who had 4 rebounds and played with a good motor in a 12-minute, second-half stint at OSU. Anderson said it may be time for Bailey to help the team more moving forward. Trey Thompson played 1:20 alongside Kingsley on Wednesday, but the duo has been hit-and-miss together for the most part.

There would undoubtedly be some growing pains and Bailey is the most undersized of an undersized group of 4s. But it’s not like the upperclassmen have provided consistent production at the 4. Cook and Thomas have alternated hot and cold performances for most of the season, rarely putting together a game where both are playing well.

If they can’t provide reliable production, why not give the best athlete of the group a shot at earning a regular spot in the rotation. Bailey’s physical tools are easily the best of the three. His ceiling is the highest.

He may force his way into the rotation for the stretch run of the season.

— Better ball movement

Arkansas had just 13 combined assists on 48 made shots against Vanderbilt and Oklahoma State last week, a putrid 27.1 assist rate, a number 12.3 percent lower than what the worst assist team in the nation (Harvard) has averaged this year.

Wednesday, the Hogs had 12 assists in the second half alone, finishing with 18 on 29 makes, a healthy 62.1 percent assist rate, which would rank 17th nationally for the season.

Arkansas benefitted greatly from getting out in transition in the second half. Fast-break sequences are conducive to sharing the ball, evidenced by several of Hannahs' 3s.

But there seemed to be an emphasis on making the extra pass and setting teammates up. The starting backcourt of Barford (4 assists), Daryl Macon (4) and Anton Beard (2) helped set the tone.

Macon, in particular, looked to set teammates up.

He breaks down his defender with a nice, quick in-and-out dribble, sinks the defense by getting to the middle of the lane and finds an open Beard for 3.

Heady play all-around to set up the Thomas layup. Arkansas caught Alabama with back-door cuts when the Crimson Tide overplayed passing lanes a few times. That second assist was set up by Trey Thompson, who had 3 assists of his own, his 10th multi-assist game of the year and fourth game with 3 assists this season.

Remember, he’s doing that in 12 minutes a game. The other five bigs on the roster have combined for 20 multi-assist games this year. Thompson’s 6.1 assists per 40 minutes in SEC play are nearly double his next closest teammates (Jaylen Barford and Anton Beard, 3.1).

Thompson whipping lasers all over the court is the norm. Arkansas sharing the ball to the degree it did Wednesday had not been, especially not lately.

Wednesday was a step in the right direction.

Stray Thoughts

— The OSU loss killed the chances for a good crowd. Less than 9,000 in attendance, including a pretty average student turnout despite a free pizza promotion that led to a packed section against LSU a few weeks back. The combination of the 6 p.m. tip-off and lackluster showing in Stillwater made the less-than-half-full crowd expected, but fans who didn’t show missed seeing the Hogs’ most entertaining half of the season.

— Hannahs has been busted twice recently for pushing off with his off arm on drives, including once Wednesday. Both have been pretty obvious calls. It’s a move a lot of NBA players use, but do so more discreetly.

— The Daryl Macon first-possession 3 has to be on opposing teams’ scouting reports by now. It seems like it happens every game. He dribbled into a 3-pointer 4 seconds into the game Wednesday and has scored the Hogs’ first basket 8 of the last 14 games, including 6 3-pointers.

— Bad night at the line. Hogs hit just 18 of 29 (62.1 percent). The rest of the offense was good enough and Alabama was inept enough on its end of the court to keep the misses at the charity stripe from mattering, but there has been some free-throw slippage lately. A positive: Moses Kingsley was 11 of 12. A negative: the rest of the team was 7 of 17.

— Kingsley was not giving the ball up on the break. Tried a Eurostep finish that missed badly on one and managed to bank in a wild, off-balance runner on another. Hogs had a 4-on-1 on the latter. Probably best to find a guard in those situations.

— Still no name on the back of walk-on Jonathan Holmes’ jersey. Maybe he has to score before he gets it. Nearly drilled an off-balance 3-pointer Wednesday. All of his attempts have looked good, but he’s 0 of 3, all from 3, in his 4 appearances.

— Liked how Avery Johnson sagged way off Arlando Cook and Dustin Thomas, daring them to shoot a mid-range jumper. Packed the paint and invited what is likely the lowest-percentage shot available to the Hogs in any given lineup. Surprised more coaches don't do this.

— Alabama has 2 5-star shooting guards and a 4-star power forward among its class of 2017 commits. The Crimson Tide also have former Ohio State center Daniel Giddens, a 6-11 former top-50 prospect, sitting out. Johnson is accumulating talent in Tuscaloosa, but this current group is hard to watch on the offensive end.

— This was a big game and the Hogs steamrolled Alabama in the second half. If they can come out of the at Missouri, Vanderbilt, at LSU trifecta sitting at 20-5, 9-3, they’ll head into the final 3 weeks sitting pretty.


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