Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year three times.
Difference noticeable with Sills
Arkansas guard Desi Sills drives to the basket during a game against Alabama on Saturday, March 9, 2019, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE -- When University of Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson decided to put Desi Sills into the starting lineup, the freshman guard from Jonesboro showed he was up to the challenge.
"My reaction was I've got to step up for my team," Sills said. "Coach has given me the opportunity to be a starter, and I'm running with it."
Sills has averaged 9.8 points, 1.8 assists, 1.6 rebounds and 23.8 minutes starting the past five games. He has shot 50 percent (15 of 30) from the field as a starter, including 11 of 17 on three-pointers.
"I've been putting the work in before practice, and even on the off days," Sills said of his hot shooting. "Just trying to get up shots and help my teammates out."
Sills scored a career-high 15 points against Kentucky at Rupp Arena in his first road start. The Wildcats won 70-66, but the Razorbacks built on their strong performance and have won their past three games.
"I think Desi's energy is contagious," Anderson said. "He's knocking shots down. He's making plays, getting to the basket. He's got a good game -- and I think his confidence has really soared.
"He's a competitor. I want our guys competing for playing time, and he's competing for it. He's helping our basketball team defensively, offensively, and I think he brings an edge that you've got to have. Especially in that guard position."
Arkansas All-SEC sophomore forward Daniel Gafford said Sills never lacks for effort.
"He gives you 110 percent, maybe even more," Gafford said. "We feed off of him, and it goes through the whole team."
Sills said his success on offense as a starter hasn't changed his mentality about being a stopper on defense.
"Defense leads to offense," Sills said. "So I'm maintaining that and doing what I can on the offensive end to help us score when it's needed."
Arkansas sophomore forward Daniel Gafford and freshman guard Isaiah Joe, and Arkansas State University senior guard Ty Cockfield made the 10-man All-District VII team voted on by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association. The district represents Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas.
Gafford, from El Dorado, is averaging 17.0 points and an SEC-leading 8.7 rebounds. Joe, from Fort Smith, is averaging 14.0 points and has hit an Arkansas record 106 three-point baskets this season. Cockfield, from Gainesville, Ga., is averaging 22.4 points to lead the Sun Belt Conference.
Texas Tech Coach Chris Beard -- who led the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to a 30-6 record and the 2016 Sun Belt regular-season and tournament championships before beating Purdue in the NCAA Tournament -- was voted the District VII coach of the year.
The Red Raiders are ranked No. 7 in The Associated Press poll and are 26-5, including a 67-64 victory at home over Arkansas. They were picked to finish seventh in the Big 12 in a preseason poll, but shared the conference championship with Kansas State at 14-4.
Beard led Texas Tech to its first conference championship since 1996, when James Dickey -- a Valley Springs native who was a player and assistant at the University of Central Arkansas, and an Arkansas assistant for Eddie Sutton -- was the Red Raiders' coach. The Red Raiders won the 1996 Southwest Conference championship with a 14-0 record and finished 30-2 overall.
Not since Lofton
Arkansas guard Isaiah Joe leads the SEC in three-point baskets per game at 3.42 and with a 42.9 shooting percentage from beyond the arc.
If Joe finishes the season still first in both categories, he'll be the second SEC freshman to do that along with Tennessee's Chris Lofton 14 years ago.
Lofton, the SEC's career leader with 431 three-point baskets, is the only freshman to lead the conference in three-pointers made per game (3.0) and percentage (46.5), which he did during the 2004-05 season when he hit 93 of 200 attempts.
Joe has hit an Arkansas record 106 three-pointers in 247 attempts. He's hit the second-most three-pointers ever by an SEC freshman behind the record 113 by Kentucky's Jamal Murray during the 2015-16 season.
Arkansas will meet Florida in the SEC Tournament for the seventh time when the teams play Thursday's opener at noon at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.
The Gators hold a 4-2 edge against the Razorbacks in the SEC Tournament, but Arkansas won last season's matchup in St. Louis 80-72 to stop an eight-game losing streak to Florida.
Florida was the No. 8 seed and Arkansas No. 9 when the Gators beat the Razorbacks 68-61 in the 2016 SEC Tournament in Nashville.
The Razorbacks won the teams' first SEC Tournament matchup 75-74 in Atlanta in 1999 before the Gators won the next four, including a 77-56 victory in the 2007 championship game in Atlanta. The Gators went on to win the their second consecutive national championship.
ARKANSAS VS. FLORIDA
WHAT SEC Tournament
WHEN Noon Central on Thursday
WHERE Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, Tenn.
RECORDS Arkansas 17-14, 8-10; Florida 17-14, 9-9
SERIES Florida leads 24-12.
TELEVISION SEC Network
RADIO Razorback Sports Network
Sports on 03/13/2019
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