Razorbacks Play Mountaineers Saturday

By Nate Allen

FAYETTEVILLE – Saturday the Arkansas Razorbacks play for something beyond themselves.

All 10 of the Big 12’s teams and 10 of the SEC’s 14 team do.

It’s the all day into night on the ESPN networks  annual SEC vs. Big 12 Challenge. For its part,  Arkansas, 15-5 of the SEC, hosting the Big 12’s West Virginia Mountaineers, 13-6, of the Big 12 at 1 p.m. at Walton Arena televised by ESPN2.

I hope that our league does really well,” Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman said.  “It’s unique to be in the middle of conference play and then it’s kind of this one game where it’s a quick interruption and then we get right back to it.  But I think it’s great.”

He explained why.

“The national exposure that both leagues get out of this,” Musselman said.    “I think it’s a great thing for college basketball.  I think there’s a national spotlight in every one of these games that’s going to happen Saturday.”

Graduate transfer forward Trey Wade is new to Arkansas via Wichita State and before that Texas-El Paso, but already is deep into the SEC vs. Big 12 Challenge.

Though not designated SEC vs. Big 12 Challenge games, Arkansas already is 1-1 against the Big 12 this season having defeated Kansas State in Kansas City and losing to Oklahoma in Tulsa.

“It’s pretty cool to play against a Big 12 team,” Wade said. “It’s kind of a bragging rights and competition when you’ve got the SEC playing against the Big 12.   I know all the teams are looking forward to it.”

Though new to Arkansas, Wade has the most experience vs. West Virginia.

“I played against West Virginia a couple years back,” Wade said.  “I know they’re a physical team. They press. They play defense hard. We just have to match their energy.   We gotta come with it.”

The Mountaineers bring two aspects that Razorbacks fans know well: Coach Bob Huggins and senior forward Gabe Osabuohien.

Though a West Virginia grad and coaching the Mountaineers since 2007, Huggins is most famous for his 399-127 and Final Four and two Elite Eights in a 16-year run coaching the University of Cincinnati. That run included a couple of intense games against former Arkansas Coach Nolan Richardson’s Razorbacks.

Both the sons of coaches, Eric Musselman grew up in Ohio when his dad, the late Bill Musselman, coached Ashland University,  knew of Huggins back when Huggins coached Walsh College in Canton and   the University of Akron.

“I have incredible respect for Coach Huggins,” Eric Musselman said.   “Coach Huggins is one of the best coaches that has coached in college basketball.  His dad is a legendary coach in Ohio.   I actually played open gym at Akron when I was a high school player.   I know his teams are tough minded.  They play really, really hard and they are an excellent defensive team.”

A couple of WVU guards, Taz Sherman, averaging 18.5 points, and Sean McNeil, averaging 13.6 including hitting 34 of 86 treys, can also score.

Sherman can kind of score the ball in three areas,.” Musselman said.   “High volume free throw attempt player. Can make threes.  Can dribble drive.  McNeil  is a really, really good shooter.”

Traditionally Huggins teams clean the boards like erasers on chalk.

“From a rebounding standpoint they have a lot of guys that can really pound the backboards,” Musselman said. “ Jalen Bridges (a 6-7 starting forward) and the guy that really goes to the glass, (Isaiah, 6-10) Cottrell ( is a very good offensive rebounder.  (Pauly 6-8) Paulicap,   (Dimon 6-9) Carrigan –  all those guys can really, really crash the offensive backboard.”

Off the bench Osabuohien, a 6-6 forward, leads them all averaging 5.8 rebounds.  Osabuohien, a graduate of Southwestern Christian High in Little Rock and for 54 games a Razorback under former Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson then transferred with new coach Musselman’s help in 2019.

“We’re happy for Gabe,” Musselman said.  “Hopefully, Gabe feels that we did what we could to try to help him get his eligibility as quick as possible. He’s playing in a system, and for a coach that really respects his ability as a tough-minded defensive player who scraps for loose balls, who’s a good, willing  passer and an excellent offensive rebounder.  I think it’s a really good fit for Gabe. I think it’s a really good fit for Coach Huggins.”

Huggins’ Mountaineers currently uncomfortably fit into a 4-game Big 12 losing streak.

But look at whom they lost. Nationally No. 9 Kansas, No. 5 reigning national champion Baylor, No. 18 Texas Tech and those Oklahoma Sooners that in Tulsa thumped Arkansas, 86-66.

Speaking of fit, the Razorbacks rallied from an 0-3 SEC start to be 5-3 in the SEC since Musselman changed his starting lineup to one true guard, SEC leading scorer JD Notae, with forwards Au’Diese Toney, now a 2-guard, Wade, Kamani Johnson, for one game until sidelined  by a sprained ankle from which he’s returned off the bench, Stanley Umude and center Jaylin Williams.

It’s a bigger, stronger lineup apt to be needed for more than just a start against the physical style that Huggins employs.

“Certainly, I think this particular lineup we have now is more physical than what we were early in the year,” Musselman said.

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