Scottie Bordelon is a reporter for the Hawgs Sports Network. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas and previously covered high school sports for the Times Record in Fort Smith and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He was the 2022 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Argenal: Hogs grew through recent adversity
Arkansas assistant coach Gus Argenal is shown on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021, during the second half of the Razorbacks’ 93-78 win over Arkansas-Little Rock in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. Visit nwaonline.com/211205Daily/ for the photo gallery.
FAYETTEVILLE — One of Arkansas coach Eric Musselman’s most often-repeated lines is that each game takes on its own identity.
That saying is especially true when looking at the Razorbacks’ last three outings and victories following a 0-3 start in Southeastern Conference play.
In that span, they notched their second-largest margin of victory in an SEC game against Missouri, won at then-No. 12 LSU under interim head coach Keith Smart, and overcame a seven-point halftime deficit to move to .500 in the league vs. South Carolina.
Largely unlike in its 1-5 stretch from Dec. 11-Jan. 8, Arkansas was up for each challenge and met them with vigor and toughness, both mentally and physically.
Arkansas assistant coach Gus Argenal, who was in charge of the scout ahead of the game in Baton Rouge, said Thursday he has been pleased with the team’s response to recent obstacles.
“I think that luckily as we go through and prepare in the spring, summer and then the fall you become so close that you are ready and prepare for these types of situations,” said Argenal, who is in his first season at Arkansas. “Obviously we never don’t want to have our head coach out there with us – our guys respond so well to him – but I thought it allowed us to grow. Those three games have been a different situation.
“We are really proud of the maturity. And now it’s trying to get another win and not take a step back.”
According to Stanley Umude, the Razorbacks’ transfer wing from South Dakota, that maturity began revealing itself prior to the win over Missouri. Though Arkansas got off to its worst SEC start since 2008-09 following an 86-81 loss at Texas A&M, there was internal belief the team could get on a run.
At that point, it came down to bottling defensive energy and effort shown late against the Aggies, and zeroing in on lineups that provided the Razorbacks an identity.
“We knew we were supposed to be better than we were playing,” Umude said. “We weren’t really panicked, but we were disappointed in the results. We knew we had to keep working with each other. We have the talent that we need to string off some wins.
“I think we were focused on just getting that first win, and taking it one game at a time was the biggest thing for us.”
Asked what he has learned about the Razorbacks in their tale of two three-game runs inside the conference, Argenal touched on a number of topics, ranging from lineup combinations and shot quality to Arkansas’ rebounding and defense to player resilience.
In doing so, he gave a nod to a previously seldom-used forward who has seen his role increase over the last two weeks and made impactful contributions.
“Sometimes you think, ‘Well, this guy’s been playing the 2 position or he’s been playing the 3 or 4,’ but when you really sit down and (look at it), you’re forced to learn other positions and maybe guard differently,” Argenal said. “We have Trey Wade on 1s, 2s, 3s, 4s and 5s at times defensively. You learn that players can do it.
“It’s just really breaking it down and making it simple for them.”
Consistency can be a challenge for college players, too, Argenal added. He felt as if the Razorbacks played solidly across 90 consecutive minutes prior to the South Carolina game.
Then came a less-than-stellar first half against the Gamecocks. But Arkansas then went on to outscore South Carolina 42-19 after halftime.
“Now we have a standard to hold the guys to, and that standard has been lifted with each game,” Argenal said. “I thought in the second half of South Carolina, now we set a new standard of how hard we can guard.
“And I think we’re taking better shots, and it shows how much you can improve as a team if you follow the game plan and keep developing.”
Given the level of effort shown by the team of late, having a Saturday night home crowd to play before against Texas A&M excites Argenal and Umude, whose 13.7 points in SEC play is second on the team.
Umude, on Tuesday and Thursday, was not shy when speaking to the importance of the next game.
“We feel like we’ve got good momentum going right now, honestly,” he said. “We’ve got a good feeling going around campus. We’ve got three straight wins. I think Saturday is probably going to be our biggest game of the season to date.
“We’re excited and we’re happy to be at home.”
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