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:
Vols out-muscled, out-hustled Hogs
Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes yells at an official during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Arkansas, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
It had nothing to do with officiating, but no one got more camera time Tuesday night than those guys who seemed bigger than the game.
The bottom line was the Arkansas Razorbacks were out-hustled and out-muscled by Tennessee, a team with the reputation for being more finesse than physical.
Eric Musselman worked every angle for 40 minutes, but not even the sips of Diet Coke could give him a rush.
He tried every fathomable combination in hopes of finding a spark, but on the road his team didn’t have a run in a game too often dictated by runs.
Tennessee never trailed and the Vols played Hogball defense to get the 75-57 win.
Early in the game, they lost Zakai Ziegler, one of their better players, and they just shrugged and went about cramming and slamming the Razorbacks’ offense, which had shown signs of being good at attacking the basket.
On Tuesday night, the Hogs needed a hall pass to visit in the paint.
Tennessee didn’t need a zone defense to deny the Razorbacks. They did it with teamwork and a self determination that kept the Hogs at bay the entire game.
In a battle of defenses, the trademark for both teams, Tennessee won easily.
There was not a span of time when the Razorbacks dominated and although they kept it within firing range for much of the game, by the time they entered the stretch run the Vols were up by 20 and the Razorbacks were still searching for a high percentage shot.
It started with an ugly first half for the Hogs as Tennessee forced them to shoot jumpers and it is no secret that is not their strength. They made only 9 of 24 and only scored eight points in the paint compared to 24 for the Vols.
Arkansas missed everything from threes to dunks.
Saying the Vols controlled the boards would be like saying Russia is not widely popular.
Arkansas had 14 rebounds at the half, Tennessee had 22 and eight of those were offensive boards that they turned into 12 points.
The Razorbacks started slow, missing their first four shots, and then got slower.
It is impossible to score when you don’t protect the ball and Arkansas had 10 turnovers, most of it on lazy passes that were picked off or just not protecting the most precious thing in a game, the ball.
Tennessee had 10 first-half steals and the second half was a mirror of the first for the Razorbacks.
Arkansas doesn’t control its NCAA destiny other than one or maybe two spots in the seedings.
Going into the game the Hogs had an NCAA NET ranking of No. 14. Yes, there is a lot of other criteria but no team ranked in the top 20 has not made the tournament and their last two games are against Quad 1 teams Tennessee, No. 3, and No. 20 Kentucky, who seems to be peaking at the right time.
Kentucky comes to Bud Walton this Saturday for a 1 p.m. tipoff.
What the Razorbacks are looking at right now is being a No. 8 or No. 9 seed in the SEC Tournament next week and win one game, most likely against Florida or Missouri. A win gives them a third shot at Alabama.
At some point, all the distractions of the past eight days are going to catch up with the Crimson Tide.
They may be great teammates and totally supportive of Brandon Miller, but at some point the harshness of that spotlight will start to affect them.
A plus to being a No. 8 or No. 9 in the SEC Tournament is you play the first game each day starting Thursday and that keeps a team rested, as opposed to playing the last game of the night which usually doesn’t start until 8:45 and the players aren’t in bed until well after midnight.
Arkansas needs some consistency.
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