FAYETTEVILLE – As of Thursday afternoon the big news about the Arkansas Razorbacks vs. Vanderbilt Commodores SEC men’s basketball game was it’s still scheduled to tip off at noon Saturday on the SEC Network at Vandy’s Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn.
Cases of covid-19 and covid-19 contact tracing quarantines among Vandy’s women’s basketball team so prevail that the Commodores women canceled their season.
Arkansas’ nationally 15th-ranked women in fact have schedule replaced Vandy with the nationally No. 3 UConn Huskies in an ESPN2 televised game at 4 p.m, next Thursday at Walton Arena.
The 4-6 overall/ 0-4 in the SEC Vandy men of Coach Jerry Stackhouse play on, though not much lately. Because of covid concerns and contact tracing, the Commodores men have postponed three of their last four games including last Wednesday when they were supposed to host Texas A&M.
Doesn’t sound optimistic the Commodores could sufficiently heal contagion concerns by Saturday. But Eric Musselman, coach of the 11-4, 3-4 Razorbacks, said Thursday shortly before practice he assumes the game plays on.
“We’re going to walk down there (Eddie Sutton Practice Court) in 23 minutes and 47 seconds and prepare for Vandy,” Musselman said Thursday afternoon. “I’ve been told nothing other than the fact that there was a press release about Wednesday’s game (announcing postponement against the Aggies). So, yes, we are anticipating playing the game.”
The Razorbacks sure want to play with momentum finally on their side.
Their fate sealed by dreadful first halves, the Razorbacks lost badly last week at LSU and worse last Saturday at Alabama and trailed Auburn by 19 with four minutes to go in last Wednesday night’s first half at Walton Arena.
Starting with a late first-half rally cutting the intermission deficit to 12, the Razorbacks rallied to overcome Auburn, 75-73 and complete a home and home sweep of Coach Bruce Pearl’s Tigers that they beat, 97-85 in Auburn, Ala.
“ I don’t think a team could have played any harder than we did in the second half,” Musselman said on postgame radio Wednesday night at Walton. “I would take that effort and the energy they played with anywhere against anybody. I thought they really laid it on the line in a game we had to win.”
Musselman previously said the Hogs learned the hard way that carryover doesn’t come naturally following a 99-69 rout over Georgia losing 92-76 and 90-59 clunkers at LSU and at Alabama.
But surely overcoming a 19-point lead to beat a vastly improved Auburn team carries confidence into today’s game.
“I think our guys were excited about that,” Musselman said before Thursday’s practice. “I just think each game has its own identity.”
He did identify his own excitement with two reserves vs. Auburn junior 6-1 guard Desi Sills of Jonesboro and 6-10 freshman forward Jaylin Williams of Fort Smith Northside, to contemplate starting lineup changes.
Sills, a key reserve and then a key starter for then first-year Arkansas Coach Musselman’s Razorbacks last season, and a consistent starter this season turned spectacular with a career high 23 points the first Auburn game, lost his starting job with five consecutive subpar to horrendous performances until rediscovering his game in Wednesday’s Auburn rematch scoring 22 points.
Williams started Wednesday’s game on the bench but started Wednesday’s second half. He never sat the bench again delivering a game-high seven rebounds plus seven points, two blocked shots, two assists and a steal, and rating a plus 16 for his 28 total minutes.
“Jaylin’s been awesome,” Musselman said. “I didn’t want to take him off the floor last night.
“Desi’s come off the bench, done a great job,” Musselman said. “He’s started, done a great job. So, what we end up doing with that spot… I think Desi’s mature enough to kind of handle whatever role we throw at him.”
So do either or both start? Really shouldn’t matter since they’ve done both though a quicker start would certainly help considering the last three games.
“I’m going to go down and talk to some guys individually and then go and try to talk to the team and try to come up with a starting lineup kind of as a group collectively,” Musselman said.
Despite Vandy’s record, 77-74 and 84-81 contested to the finish losses at Kentucky and at home to Mississippi State show how competitive the Scotty Pippen led Commodores can be.
Pippen Jr., son of former Chicago Bulls and University of Central Arkansas great Scottie Pippen Sr., is a 6-3 sophomore guard averaging 21.3 points complemented by 6-9 forward Dylan Disu averaging 13.3 points.
“Hard to defend that combo,” Musselman said. “ Pippen is a point guard that can score the ball. He’s a high-volume free throw attempt player so you’ve got to be disciplined and try to keep him off the foul line. He is a pump-fake artist. He loves to get you in the air, lean into you. It’s important that we be disciplined with Pippen. It’s important that we go vertical. We’ll continually talk about ‘Don’t bite on Pippen’s pump fakes. Don’t let him lean into you. Don’t let him jump into you. Don’t let him flail his arms. Go straight up and be disciplined.”
D.J. Harvey, a muscular 6-6, 235 senior guard transfer via Notre Dame, also can be a Vandy force, Musselman opined.
ARKANSAS (11-4, 3-4)
F-Justin Smith 6-7 Sr. 10.8 pts. 6.4 rebs.
C-Connor Vanover 7-3 So. 7.1 5.8
G-Jalen Tate 6-6 Sr. 10.6 3.9
G-Moses Moody 6-6 Fr. 16.7 5.8
G-Desi Sills 6-1 Jr. 12.0 3.8
VANDERBILT (4-6, 0-4)
F-Dylan Disu 6-9 So. 13.3 pts. 8.4 rebs.
F-Quentin Millora-Brown 6-10 Jr. 4.0 4.0
G-Maxwell Evans 6-2 Sr. 3.2 2.0
G-Scotty Pippen Jr. 6-3 So. 21.2 2.9
G-D.J. Harvey 6-6 Sr. 7.4 3.0