Scottie Bordelon is a reporter for WholeHogSports.com. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, Bordelon previously covered high school sports for the Times Record in Fort Smith and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Springdale. He is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and Football Writers Association of America, and was awarded 2022 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Hogs confident they will play well in March
Arkansas players huddle on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023, during the second half of a basketball game at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Kamani Johnson has been around the block a couple of times with Arkansas in March.
Essentially all the 6-7 forward knows is the Razorbacks have success at this time of the year. In different capacities, Johnson has been a part of both of Arkansas’ Elite Eight runs under Eric Musselman.
In his opinion, there is no secret to playing quality basketball with stakes attached.
“It’s when the men come to play basketball,” Johnson said. “That’s kind of all what it’s about. I think you kind of get battle tested in March. Nobody cares about what you did all year. It’s kind of like you roll the basketball out there and you see who’s the best team.
“I think that’s why we’ve had success in March, because we ended up figuring out a way to win. I know we have one of the best staffs in the nation, if not the best staff in the nation, for things like March.”
March is officially here, and what the Razorbacks hope becomes another long journey begins Saturday at Bud Walton Arena against No. 23 Kentucky.
Arkansas (19-11, 8-9 SEC) has lost back-to-back games at No. 2 Alabama and No. 12 Tennessee, and could use a win in the regular-season finale to bolster its resume ahead of the postseason.
ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi listed the Razorbacks in the NCAA Tournament field as a No. 8 seed in his Feb. 28 projection.
More from WholeHogSports: Musselman, Black, Johnson discuss Arkansas' home game against Kentucky on Saturday
“I think we’ve just got to stay together as a team and trust in our scouts that we get from the coaches and the game plan, because they come up with really good game plans,” freshman guard Anthony Black said when asked for keys to playing well in March. “We’ve just got to stick together as one and prioritize winning above all else like we have at times this year.
“If we just do that and play with a lot of toughness, I think we’ll be a pretty hard team to beat, which we have been all year.”
Johnson added that he is confident Arkansas can experience more success in March because the Razorbacks have performed well on big stages and in unique environments. He pointed to the Maui Invitational in November, a December victory over Oklahoma in Tulsa, and referenced how the team competed for stretches during both games with the SEC regular-season champion Crimson Tide.
Saturday’s matchup against the Wildcats, which will air on CBS, classifies as a showcase-type game, too.
“With the guys on our team individually, I know how they are and I think we’ll play our best basketball in March,” Johnson said.
After returning from Knoxville, Tenn., Arkansas went through a lengthy film session Wednesday, Johnson said, that looked back at mistakes made against the Volunteers and toward Kentucky. Black said it was a productive session that was part meeting and tape.
“After you lose a game like that, there’s a lot to talk about,” Black said. “We just had some stuff that we had to talk about. Then (what) we watched on video, we saw a lot of stuff we can correct. It was just a bad game for us.
“The coaches did a good job showing us what we did wrong. We just used that time to get better.”
Asked about player leadership, which becomes vital down the stretch of a season, Musselman said he would like to see more. Several players, including freshman Nick Smith, Black, Johnson and junior guard Davonte Davis, have tried to lead in different ways at different times in 2022-23.
“I think that’s an area we want to continue to grow in even though we only have 40 minutes of regular-season basketball to play,” Musselman said. “That’s another area to continue to grow in.”
As far as getting off on the right foot in March against Kentucky, the Razorbacks will aim to replicate a few things that aided their 88-73 victory over the Wildcats at Rupp Arena last month.
“I think we just did a good job of keeping them off the boards,” Black said. “That was a big emphasis for us. We’re going to try to be physical and try to match our physicality, and then just our energy that we had that game.
“We had a lot of good energy that game.”
There should be no shortage of energy at Bud Walton Arena this weekend.
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