Hogs to face Baylor in SEC Big 12 Challenge

By Otis Kirk

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas owns a two-game winning streak and will put that on the line Saturday when they face No. 17 Baylor in the SEC-Big 12 Challenge. 

Baylor has a five-game winning streak of its own entering the game. The Razorbacks are still looking for their first true road win. If they get that on Saturday they might make their absence from the Top 25 a one-week one. On Thursday, Gus Argenal filled in for Eric Musselman to provide a preview of the Baylor game. 

“It’s a huge opportunity,” Argenal said. “We have great respect for their program, for their team, for their staff. The big thing obviously is they’re unbelievable on offense right now. Their efficiency like you said … They shoot the three as good  as any team we’ll play. They get to free throw line as good as any team we’ll play. They offensive rebound as good as any team.

“Those are three areas that we’ve got to be dialed into. For us, offensively, the one thing we have to do is we have run. I think that we have to create points out of our transition scorers. We call them hidden points. Where can we score where that maybe it doesn’t pop up in the box score.”

Baylor guard Adam Flagler is averaging 16.1 points per game this season and shooting an amazing 43.6 percent from distance. Baylor also has Keyonte George leading the Bears with 16.9 points per game. The other guard, LJ Cryer, is averaging 14.2 points per game and hitting at a 39.8 clip from behind the 3-point line. 

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“Their ability to shoot the three is really, really dangerous,” Argenal said. “They have three elite guards, and then they have (Jalen) Bridges that can knock down a three.  We’re going to have to be really dialed in. Teams that have shot the three really well have hurt us a little bit this year. So we can’t allow them to get two or three off in a row. We have to make them play inside the arc as much as possible, which is really hard to do, because they run great action. You can’t fall asleep off the ball.”

Bridges is a 6-foot-7 forward who is averaging 9.6 points per game and pulling down 5.7 boards each outing. 

“Then they’re really good in the pick-and-roll,” Argenal said. “And as passing team, they’re quality. The ball scores for them. If you watched the Kansas game, they did a great job of isolating and shooting tough shots on good defenders.

“Our defense is going to have to be elite. And then offensively, they do foul a lot if you look at their statistics, so we have to get to the free throw line and we have to run in transition. We can’t let our offense just be on the half-court.”

Arkansas let leads slip away in road games at Vanderbilt (97-84) and Missouri (79-76). Argenal talked about what the Razorbacks need to do and close out the road game with a win.

“Yeah, I think for sure finishing the game the right way,” Argenal said. “I think that’s been the common theme and is the common theme for Coach’s teams that I’ve been a part of, and this is the fourth one. At the end of games, there’s 4-5 minutes left and it’s a one-possession game a majority of the time and then somebody breaks it open. Finishing the game the right way, so what does that mean? It means not having careless turnovers to end a game. Our last road game was Missouri. Getting a defensive rebound off a free throw then not turning it over, getting a shot on goal, getting the right shot and the right person the ball that’s playing the best that night. 

“I think that’s part of our growth. We’re not where we want to be, so I do think that’s an exciting piece, that we haven’t really gotten that done yet at the level we need to. We’re doing it better at home right now, but, again, on the road it’s another level of focus, shot selection, game management, time management. And then defensively, digging your heels in and getting big, big defensive rebounds. And not letting the game affect your emotions. I think you’ve seen us at times get a little bit over-excited, a little bit overly down. You’ve got to stay confident with what our game plan is and then allowing Coach to put everybody in the right spot and letting the game play out and not beat yourself.”

Argenal senses there’s plenty of excitement on the team to play in this game on national TV against a nationally-ranked team.

“I think they’re really excited,” Argenal said. “When you have the opportunity to play in this challenge with two of the best leagues in America, two of the best programs in our opinion, how could you not be excited? We have a lot of guys obviously that are from Texas, too. I think that adds to it. These two teams played a couple years back in a huge game in the NCAA Tournament. So there is a history. Our guys love the challenge. And again, I think it’s something that they’re really looking forward to. 

“This is going to be an NCAA Tournament type game. So how could you not be…I know as a staff, we’re really excited about the challenge. And again, it’s another barometer to see where we’re at. Not like the SEC doesn’t give us a lot of those barometers, having played Auburn, Alabama and all of these teams that are, you know Missouri, that are ranked in the top 25. But this is a game that you don’t often get to play. We need to play well on the road. That’s an area that we have to improve. This is no better place to start than doing it at Baylor, which will be a crazy crowd and a great opportunity.”

Arkansas (14-6, 3-5) and Baylor (15-5, 5-3) will tip at 3 p.m. on Saturday and televised on ESPN. 

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