FAYETTEVILLE – Turns out Wednesday’s win over Missouri not only snapped Arkansas’ 0-3 SEC skid but became a proper sendoff to surgery for Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman.
Following the 87-43 mauling of Mizzou Wednesday night at Walton Arena, Musselman Thursday morning underwent what was described in a UA press release as “successful surgery to repair a full tear of the supraspinatus tendon and partial tears to the infraspiniatus and subscapularis tendons in his left shoulder.”
Associate head coach and former Indiana Hoosier playing great Keith Smart will coach the Razorbacks, 11-5, 1-3 in the SEC, against the nationally No. 12 LSU Tigers, 15-1, 3-1 in Saturday’s 1 p.m. ESPN2 televised SEC game at the Tigers Maravich Center in Baton Rouge, La. and in Tuesday night’s 6 o’clock SEC Network televised SEC game with South Carolina at Walton Arena.
Musselman, injured a couple of weeks ago in a collision with a player during practice, had hoped to postpone the surgery until postseason. The incessant pain, particularly when trying to sleep, caused him to reconsider.
“The goal was to use daily physical therapy and treatment as well as a steroid injection to delay the surgery as many weeks as we could,” orthopedist Dr. Wesley Cox was quoted. “None of which have offered any significant improvement. At this time, surgery to repair the tears was necessary due to the amount of pain and instability he was experiencing and to mitigate the risk for significant complications in the future. Coach Musselman is expected to do very well and ultimately make a full recovery.”
Musselman apparently hopes to coach the Razorbacks’ Jan. 22 rematch with Texas A&M at Walton Arena but Thursday’s press release noted the coach “will miss at least two games.” So his status will be reevaluated next midweek.
Smart, in his first year at Arkansas but with a longtime association with Musselman playing for him in the pro minor leagues with the Florida Beachdogs and Rapid City Thrillers and assisting him as a coach on Musselman’s Golden State Warriors NBA staff, coached 22 years in pro ball including NBA head coaching stops at Golden State, Cleveland and Sacramento. He reunited with Musselman at Arkansas to start his collegiate coaching career.
“He (Musselman) shared that with me the day before yesterday that he was going to finally go get his surgery,” Smart said Thursday. “We had talked about it for a while as far as him getting his surgery. He shared with me that I was going to coach the team while he was away.”
This isn’t Smart’s interim first rodeo.
“I’ve been able to do this several times in my coaching career,” Smart said. “When I was (assistant) coaching at Golden State, I coached 17 games with Coach (Don) Nelson (out with pneumonia) there. So, it’s not a new thing. Plus, I’ve been around Coach Muss for so long and have a good understanding of his approach. I shared with the team that I’m going to do everything I can to stay close to the vest with how we’ve been doing things, but I’ve got to coach in my style and my personality. I talked with Coach about that and he said just do what you need to do and keep preparing this team to get ready to play a game.”
As a Baton Rouge native, though never playing for LSU, Smart already was fired up coming home as an assistant coach for the first time much less now running the show.
Sophomore center/power forward Jaylin Williams, media available Thursday, said Musselman told them after the Missouri game about the impending surgery.
“We kind of all knew something was up when he was walking around practice with a heating pad or ice pack on his shoulder while just coaching with one arm down and one arm up pointing,” Williams said.
He expressed faith in Smart and assistants Gus Argenal and Clay Moser.
“Last night’s game was really big for us and we want to keep it rolling,” Williams said. “Coach Smart’s brains, knowledge of the game and being able to read things. All our team has confidence in him and the staff. We all have confidence he is going to lead us in the direction we want to go.”
If forward Kamani Johnson’s ailing ankle proves willing, Smart said he will start the same unorthodox but Wednesday night so effective starting lineup of four forwards, Au’Diese Toney, Trey Wade, Johnson and Williams with one guard, JD Notae.
Johnson provided four rebounds and four points in nine first-half minutes against Mizzou before watching the rest of the game with a boot on his just sprained ankle.
“Kamani is still being evaluated,” Smart said. “You’ve got to see how he responds to traveling with his ankle and things like that. But our training staff is doing an incredible job to get him up and hopefully we have a chance for him to play in this game.”
The big lineup not only helped Arkansas on the boards but surprisingly with four bigs and one guard sliced the turnovers bedeviling the Hogs in their SEC losses at Mississippi State and at Texas A&M and home vs. Vanderbilt to just two for Wednesday’s first half that Arkansas led 49-15.
It was a more versatile lineup than you might believe, Williams said.
“I wouldn’t say we had four big guys in there,” Williams said. “Au’Diese is a 2-3 (off guard and small forward). Trey can play 3-4-5 (small forward, power forward and center) and Mani is a 4-5 and I wouldn’t consider myself a strictly 5-man. So I think we had a lot of smart players in the game and with one guard in the game I felt we slowed the game down a lot more and ran screens and moved the ball around and that contributed to us not having that many turnovers.”
It also helped that displaced starting guard Devo Davis played big off the bench, 15 points, six rebounds and four assists, while Notae scored 19 and constantly pressured Mizzou point guard Boogie Coleman, Mizzou Coach Cuonzo Martin said.
With the LSU Tigers, the Hogs have entirely different Tigers by the tail in Baton Rouge than they had with Mizzou’s Tigers in Fayetteville.
Mizzou was coming off a stunning SEC home upset of then No. 15 Alabama but is only 7-8 overall and routinely been throttled on the road.
Coach Will Wade’s LSU Tigers stand 15-1 with victories over customary SEC powers Kentucky Tennessee and Florida and the lone loss at currently No. 4 Auburn.
Xavier Pinson, LSU’s point guard transferred from Mizzou, missed LSU’s victory at Florida this week with a knee injury and is deemed doubtful for Saturday.
Otherwise the Bayou Bengals are healthy led by 6-7 forward Darious Days, 14.7 points/7.8 rebounds; off the bench via University of Cincinnati transfer forward Tari Eason, 15.5 points/7.2 rebounds. Tigers Brandon Murray, a 6-5 guard, 7-foot center Efton Reid and 6-5 forward Mani Wilkinson have started every game they’ve played.
Sophomore letterman Eric Gaines, Pinson’s replacement if Pinson can’t go, played all 29 games for last season’s 19-10 LSU Tigers.
Smart said a big key is continuing Wednesday’s success in cutting turnovers against an LSU team designed to turn teams over.
“On the defensive end because of their length and their athleticism they cover a lot of ground and they do a great job of switching and trying to flatten you out to make you have to play from out on the perimeter,” Smart said. ‘We have to be smart with the basketball, things we’ve been trying to do – take care of the turnovers.”