FAYETTEVILLE – Seems almost as fast as the Arkansas Razorbacks had to turn around Sunday’s miserable first half with a great second half to overcome Oral Roberts University they must turn around to play again.
Coach Eric Musselman’s 7-0 Razorbacks had only Monday between games before tipping off today’s 4 p.m. game at Walton Arena against the 7-1 Abilene Christian University Wildcats.
Today’s unusual 4 p.m. non-weekend tip-off accommodates SEC Network television airing the game with all games’ attendance this season limited because of the covid-19 coronavirus.
Arkansas’ unusual December schedule, the Hogs showed much first-half rust Sunday from their eight days between games while taking fall semester final exams, then playing two games in three days takes some adjusting, Razorbacks Justin Smith and Desi Sills acknowledged.
Smith, the 6-7 graduate transfer forward via Indiana University, and Sills, the 6-1 junior guard from Jonesboro lettering for former Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson in 2018-2019 and for Musselman in 2019-2020, were the double-doubling standouts leading Arkansas out of Sunday’s first half abyss to beat ORU.
“I’ve never had this kind of turnaround before other than conference tournament and stuff like that,” Smith said postgame Sunday after posting game-leading 22 points and 17 rebounds. “Today and tomorrow, we’re going to take a good look at them and kind of figure out how we want to exploit what they do and how to guard their different sets and stuff like that. We watched a little bit of film after the game, but I think tomorrow we will take a deeper look into what they do and go from there.”
Sills, 16 points and 10 rebounds Sunday, remarked,
“It’s going to be tough, but at the end of the day, we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to be mentally prepared, we’ve got to watch film, we’ve got to see what they’re talking about and just go into the game Tuesday ready to play.”
Considerably readier to play than how they opened against ORU, Musselman warned.
Coach Joe Golding’s Wildcats of the Southland Conference have plowed 7-0 through teams of similar backgrounds but actually impresses most in their lone loss.
At Texas Tech’s court in Lubbock, the Wildcats frustrated Tech’s Red Raiders, the national runner-up in the 2018-2019 Final Four, before finally defeated, 51-44.
In his 10th-year coaching the Wildcats, 20-11 last season before covid-19 cancelled most conference tournaments and the entire NCAA Tournament, and the 27-7 Southland Conference Tournament champions of 2019, Golding’s teams feature a combination of patient offense and pressure defense.
Commit fundamental flaws against them, it’s fundamental you’ll pay the price, Musselman implies.
“I think they are the best team we’ve faced,” Musselman said. “They’re really well coached. They create disruptions. They deny passing lanes, they’re a high steal team, they’re a very well-balanced scoring team.”
Nobody averages scoring double figures.
But three, guard Coryon Mason , forward Joe Pleasant and 7-foot center Kolton Kohl, average 9.9, 9.9 and 9.8, deceptively good averages for a team that plays low-scoring games.
“There’s not one or two players that you can focus on,” Musselman said. “They do a good job of throwing the ball into the post. But the majority of their offense is created through their defense.”
Often created by mistakes of opposing offenses too hastily pushing the pace.
“We’ve got to do a really good job of taking care of the ball,” Musselman said. “We can’t try to make home run plays. We can’t try to thread the needle. We’ve got to throw rope passes. We’ve got to be strong when we’re dribbling the basketball. We’ve got to have a good arm bar when we’re dribbling the ball. We’ve got to come and meet the pass with two hands. You can’t wait on the pass against Abilene Christian. I think we’ll be able to score if we don’t turn the basketball over. But they’re tough, they’re gritty, they’re scrappy.”
Against small guards dominated ORU, Musselman in the second half benched 7-3 center Connor Vanover and started JD Notae, 15 second-half points, as an extra guard.
Presumably Vanover, often outstanding so far, returns to prominence vs. 7-foot Wildcats center Kolton Kohl.
“I think any time you play against a team that throws the ball into the painted area, now all of a sudden big No. 23, CV, he becomes a factor,” Musselman said.
F-Justin Smith 6-7 Sr. 13.7 pts. 7.1 rebs.
C-Connor Vanover 7-3 So. 8.9 8.1
G-Jalen Tate 6-6 Sr. 10.1 4.3
G-Desi Sills 6-1 Jr. 12.3 4.0
G-Moses Moody 6-6 Fr. 16.3 5.9
ABILENE CHRISTIAN (7-1)
F-Joe Pleasant 6-8 Jr. 9.9 pts. 4.3 rebs.
C-Kolton Kohl 7-0 Sr. 9.8 4.9
G-Coryon Mason 6-0 Sr. 9.9 1.9
G-Reggie Miller 6-0 Sr. 5.9 4.1
G-Damien Daniels 5-7 Jr. 6.3 1.4