Shot at momentous road win on horizon for Hogs

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Thursday, December 5, 2019
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman directs his players Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019, during the second half of play against Northern Kentucky in Bud Walton Arena. Visit nwadg.com/photos to see more photographs from the game.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman directs his players Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019, during the second half of play against Northern Kentucky in Bud Walton Arena. Visit nwadg.com/photos to see more photographs from the game.

FAYETTEVILLE — When Arkansas' 2019-20 schedule was released, three nonconference games prior to the beginning of SEC play stood out above the rest.

Those were road trips to Georgia Tech, Western Kentucky and Indiana. Thanks to overtime heroics from Mason Jones, the Razorbacks secured their first road win of the Eric Musselman era against the Yellow Jackets on Nov. 25.

The Hilltoppers provide Arkansas' biggest challenge to date Saturday. Another win away from home over a quality opponent would be momentous for the Razorbacks as the calendar year draws to a close.

It would also be the earliest in a season Arkansas has won two true road games since the 1994-95 season, when former coach Nolan Richardson's eventual national runner-up team grabbed its second road victory at SMU on Dec. 8. The Razorbacks defeated Missouri for their first road victory five days earlier.

To copy that feat, though, Arkansas must find a way to limit Western Kentucky star forward Charles Bassey and a number of talented guards, including Taveion Hollingsworth and Camron Justice, which is no small task.

"I can’t really give too much of a projection because I haven’t seen Bassey live, but in my opinion he’s a great player," Musselman said. "He’s got huge upside, he’s still a young player, he’s going to continue to grow and get better. (At the) college level, it’s a big-time challenge.

"The other guy, (Carson) Williams, they’ll try to post him up, too. Both of those guys inside are physical, but Bassey creates a lot of problems inside because of his size and he runs the floor really well.”

Bassey turned in a strong game in the Hilltoppers' 78-77 win in Bud Walton Arena last season, finishing with 21 points, 9 rebounds and a game-high 5 blocks.

He is averaging 15.9 points on 52.5 percent from the floor, 9.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks nine games into his sophomore season.

Bassey scored 14 points and grabbed nine rebounds in Western Kentucky's loss to then-No. 2 Louisville on Nov. 29. His presence on the interior has opened up the floor for teammates, too. The Hilltoppers are shooting 43.8 percent from 3-point range when he is in the lineup versus 35.7 percent when he sits, according to HoopLens.

Musselman labeled Bassey's supporting cast as "problems." Williams, Justice and Hollingsworth all average better than 10 points per game as well, and Justice (24/56 3FG) and guard Jared Savage (15/43) are dangerous from the perimeter.

Savage and Hollingsworth poured in 20 and 17 points, respectively, against the Razorbacks in 2018-19. Justice, a transfer from IUPUI who began his college career at Vanderbilt, is the team's second leading scorer at 13.4 points per game.

"Certainly isn’t going to be easy going to Western Kentucky. Every road game is going to be hard and be challenging," Musselman added. "Again, they came in and got us last year, they added a grad transfer who starts for them in that off-guard spot and it’s an area that they wanted to improve on, their perimeter shooting.

"They’ve added an element that makes it more complicated with their post-up guys.”

In practice, Musselman noted that Arkansas has been able to work on game plan details, such as post traps defensively, which have not been used much this season, and various ways to beat the 1-3-1 zone that Western Kentucky employs out of timeouts.

Three new sets have been added to counter the zone.

"We did get some good looks at a 1-3-1 zone because Georgia Tech played it at times," he said. "That will hopefully get us where our guys understand where the windows are in that thing. They are a great shot-blocking team, too. I think they are 40th in the country in shots blocks with three guys as primary shot blockers.

"There are some things offensively that you’ve got to do against shot-blockers that I thought we did a really good job of against Georgia Tech."

Coaches and players are well aware of the outcome of last December's matchup. But Musselman is of the belief that every year is a new one and every game has its own theme.

"I don’t think you can take too much from that game film," he said. "We’re playing a little bit different style. Our guys know the games we won and the games we lost last year. I think it takes on a whole different identity once the ball gets tipped up."

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