Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a member and past president of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year 10 times and has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
Like It Is:
Hogs' mental toughness key the rest of the way
Arkansas guard Davonte Davis is shown prior to a game against Texas A&M on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023, in Fayetteville.
Texas A&M is a good basketball team, but the Arkansas Razorbacks were better Tuesday night.
Arkansas shot and defended better, but the most obvious thing in the win was its confidence is growing with each victory, and part of that is more mental toughness.
There were no five- or six-minute droughts. There were a couple of short ones, but it wasn’t because they weren’t trying.
Yes, they need to protect the ball better because 17 turnovers can get you beat on a lot of nights.
Tuesday, though, the Hogs were up for the challenge, and there were several players who stepped up big at key times. It was definitely a team win, and the 16 total assists by five different players proves that.
The key play, though, was defensive.
With 1:09 to play, Makhel Mitchell missed a free throw. The Hogs were up 74-67, which isn’t much of a buffer in the SEC, and Andre Gordon rebounded for the Aggies.
Suddenly, Arkansas’ Anthony Black sprinted in from behind him and stripped him of the ball and was fouled. The freshman made both free throws, and it seemed like Black had stolen A&M’s last hope.
The Razorbacks coasted home with an 81-70 win over a team which had won road games at Florida, South Carolina and Auburn.
All have good home crowds but not like the Razorbacks, where the fans breathe life into tired bodies every game regardless of the weather.
Arkansas needs to learn how to take that same mental toughness on the road, where the Razorbacks are winless this season.
They can. Eric Musselman’s teams have demonstrated it before, usually in late January and early February — of course, like all Power 5 programs, they don’t play many if any nonconference games on the road — and the momentum has carried them deep into March.
Part of that mental toughness is shooting at least almost as good on the road as you do at home.
Now is the time, too.
The schedule gets harder with road games at South Carolina, Kentucky, Texas A&M, Alabama and Tennessee. All of those except the Gamecocks have a shot at winning the SEC.
The home games won’t be easy either with Mississippi State, Florida, Georgia and Kentucky coming to Fayetteville.
With nine games left and sitting on a 4-5 conference record, the Hogs need to get five wins to guarantee they will be in the NCAA Tournament.
They are in a good position after the win over A&M, moving up one spot to No. 27 in the NCAA NET rankings. A loss to a Quad 2 Aggies could have seen a considerable slide the wrong way.
The SEC is losing some of its luster, too.
Tennessee is No. 2 and Alabama No. 3, despite getting run out of Norman by No. 52 Oklahoma, but the next ranked SEC team is Arkansas and then Kentucky at No. 33.
It is not looking like the SEC will get more than four or five teams in the tournament unless something drastic happens.
The main thing for the Razorbacks is that for the fourth time in four years Musselman’s teams improve as the season progresses.
Not saying this is an Elite Eight team, although they looked like a possible Final Four team with Trevon Brazile and Nick Smith.
With nine games to go, the Razorbacks are improving their situation with every game and it starts with mental toughness.
Maybe all the ice gave me a brain freeze or maybe it was because Henry Moore knew so many great stories about Frank Broyles, but the late great Moore did not play for Broyles at Arkansas.
Moore played for Bowden Wyatt and Jack Mitchell at Arkansas. He did play for Wilson Matthews in high school and for Vince Lombardi with the New York Giants.
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