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.
'He's relentless': Davis wired for tough assignments
Arkansas guard Davonte Davis (4) reacts to an official's call during a time out against Kentucky during an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, March 4, 2023, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)
DES MOINES, Iowa — When Illinois guard Terrence Shannon learned Sunday that the Illini would play Arkansas in the NCAA Tournament, Razorbacks guard Davonte Davis immediately came to mind.
When the teams tip off Thursday at 3:30 p.m. at Wells Fargo Arena, it will be the second time Shannon, an All-Big Ten performer this season, will have played Davis in the postseason. They first squared off in the second round in 2021 when Arkansas defeated Texas Tech 68-66 in Indianapolis.
“He hit big shots my sophomore year when I was at Texas Tech, and he's one of the best defenders in the country,” Shannon said Wednesday. “That's him. I know he can score the ball a bit. It’s a matchup and a challenge that, as a team, we're looking for.”
Davis is expected to get the defensive assignment on Shannon, who is sixth among Big Ten players in scoring at 17.1 points per game. He has scored 20-plus points in nine games.
The Illini’s left-handed guard stands a confident 6-6 and 225 pounds. He will be a challenge for Davis and the Razorbacks to limit.
But Davis, the Jacksonville native who was named to the All-SEC defensive team, is used to checking top offensive talents. In many ways, he is built and wired for the matchups.
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“He has the ability to get through screens and figure out what’s going on,” Arkansas assistant coach Gus Argenal said. “A really good offensive player sees the play before the play. They used to say that about Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. For him defensively, I think he sees the screen coming, the action coming, he’s really dialed in to the scouting report.
“Suddenly, he sees, ‘Why is my man running this way? Why is my man running that way? OK, this play is coming. This set is coming.’ Now he can get skinny. Coach has always said he’s bionic, so he’s got some way of getting through screens that other guys can’t.”
HoopLens data shows the Razorbacks have allowed 0.92 points per possession in Davis’ 1,859 defensive possessions. Opponents have made 46.8% of their two-point attempts and shot 30.1% from three with him on the court.
A couple of his more impressive individual moments came early in the season against San Jose State and Oklahoma.
With 12 minutes to play against the Spartans and Arkansas ahead 61-45, Davis defended San Jose State guard Alvaro Cardenas as he brought the ball up the floor, and over a 20-second span Davis evaded a ball screen from a Spartans forward and cut off drives by Cardenas going to both his right and left hand.
As Cardenas attempted to get rid of the ball, Davis screamed in Cardenas’ face.
He put similar pressure on Sooners guard Bijan Cortes late in the first half Dec. 10. Cortes crossed half court with 17 seconds to play in the half, then dribbled aimlessly for roughly nine seconds before Davis poked the ball away, dove on the floor, secured possession and drew a foul on the guard.
Moments later, Davis hit two free throws to send the Razorbacks to halftime ahead 43-40.
“Just looking at his eyes, he really is locked in and dialed in on his matchup,” Arkansas wing Ricky Council said. “Honestly, that gives the rest of us a lot of confidence to guard our man and not let nobody score. I think that’ll really be big for the tournament as he guards the other team’s best player.
“We’re just looking around like, ‘If he can do it then the second and third option shouldn’t be scoring either.’ That’s been a thing all year, but we really should lock in on that in the tournament.”
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Davis has also stood out defensively against LSU guard Adam Miller, Baylor guard Adam Flagler and Auburn’s Wendell Green. He held Miller to 9 points on 3 of 12 from the field on Jan. 24; limited Flager to 5 points on 1-of-11 shooting; and Green finished with 11 points — all in the first half — on 2 of 8 from the floor in last week’s game at the SEC Tournament.
Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said last month that Davis asked an assistant coach for all of Georgia guard Terry Roberts’ made field goals prior to Arkansas’ game against the Bulldogs. Roberts scored four points on nine shots.
“He’s relentless,” freshman guard Anthony Black said.
“Devo is crazy,” forward Kamani Johnson added. “He’s a mad man out there. Since watching him his freshman year, that’s been his thing. That was his way of getting on the court — defending. Even as a freshman I saw him lock down some pretty good guys.
“Whenever you give Devo a certain matchup, he’s just going to lock in the whole week and obsess over it.”
Argenal agreed that there is likely a bit of obsession with Davis and his defensive assignment. He knew Davis had the potential to be a star perimeter defender the first day he met the guard.
“He wants to see every guy, every shot he’s made that year, and he wants to see the set plays for that guy,” Argenal said. “The other guys do as well, but he can kind of see one play one time and then later on, two days later, I’ll say, ‘Hey, you remember this play? Florida runs a similar one.’
“He’ll be like, ‘Yeah, they run that for (Kyle) Lofton.’ He has like a photographic memory with that.”
In his last 7 games, Shannon is averaging 17.7 points on 44.9% shooting and 34.4% from deep. In 5 career NCAA Tournament games he has averaged 12.2 points and is 7 of 14 from three-point range.
Shannon on Wednesday was asked what he remembered about losing to Arkansas in 2021 while with the Red Raiders.
“They were aggressive, made you drive the ball,” he said. “Honestly, I just remember losing to them. I plan to get that win back (Thursday).”
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