By Nate Allen
The 1-6 University of Central Arkansas Bears would seem to pose little threat tonight to the 6-0 Arkansas Razorbacks ranked 10th nationally by the Associated Press media men’s basketball poll and ninth by the Coaches poll.
But the 1 of UCA’s 1-6 ought to wave a warning flag to Coach Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks hosting a 7 p.m, tip-off at Walton Arena Internet video available on SEC+.
UCA on Nov. 20 at its Farris Center in Conway defeated, 70-67 the Oral Robert University Golden Eagles that Arkansas barely survived, 72-70 in the Sweet Sixteen game of last spring’s NCAA Tournament.
Coached by Anthony Boone, the West Helena native and fine forward for some of the great Rob Evans coached Ole Miss teams that rivaled Nolan Richardson’s great Arkansas teams in the 1990s, the Bears bring to Fayetteville several Arkansas native sons ready to show their stuff against the Razorbacks.
One Bear, 6-7 junior forward Darious Hall of Little Rock Mills, was a Razorback. As a true freshman Hall played every game, including starting five, for Coach Mike Anderson’s 23-12 Razorbacks of 2017-2018.
So it surprised when Hall transferred as a 2018-2019 sophomore to DePaul University in Chicago. Hall returns to Walton Arena tonight as UCA’s leading rebounder, 6.7 and second-leading scorer 9.7.
Musselman said he is by film very familiar with Hall having viewed film of Anderson’s recent teams when he was a candidate to replace Anderson as Arkansas’ coach.
“When Hunter (Yurachek, the athletic director) called me to interview me I watched all the games,” Musselman said. “I know all the guys that were here past present and future. Darious is very active. I watched him when he played at DePaul, too, on off nights. He plays with great energy and I have a lot of respect for how hard he plays.” A great athlete. Runs the floor for them and an excellent rebounder.”
Musselman also touted UCA guards Camren Hunter, a freshman from Bryant, and Collin Cooper, a sophomore from Fayetteville.
“We can’t give up any 3-balls to No. 14 Cooper,” Musselman said. “We’ve got to do a really good job on No. 34 (Jaxson) Baker who can also make threes. They have a group of guys whether it’s Hunter or Darious Hall or Cooper, a group of guys that all are capable of averaging between 7 and 12 points a game. So it’s a balanced scoring attack as well.”
Defending against the 3-point shot was an Arkansas weakness at this season’s outset but improved vastly the last three games beating Kansas State and Cincinnati to win last week’s Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City and beating the University of Pennsylvania last Sunday at Walton.
Addressing committing 15 turnovers against Penn was Musselman’s Tuesday practice priority, the first workout since the Hogs used Monday as their NCAA mandated off day with games looming tonight and Saturday afternoon at Walton against the University of Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans.
“Against Penn, the turnovers were all self-inflicted.,” Musselman said. “Those were on us. Those were trying to thread the needle, trying to make home-run plays. Not hitting singles. Trying to hit triples and inside-the-park home runs. We don’t need that. We need simple, easy passes to make the offense flow.”
Musselman put the onus on guards Devo Davis, JD Notae and Chris Lykes and even 6-10 center/power forward Jaylin Williams, the team’s surprising assists leader. Williams led again with six assists against Penn but also committed four turnovers, Musselman said.
“A lot of it starts with our point guard play,” Musselman said at his Monday press conference. “But I mentioned last night, if we’re going to put the ball in Jaylin’s hands a lot as a point forward, we ill afford for him to have four turnovers as well.”
Musselman quipped he’s also looking out for the fans.
“We don’t want people in the first and second and third row to have to wear a helmet based on our wild passes,” Musselman said. “So we’ve got to take care of the basketball to the best of our ability.”
Offensively, Notae leads Arkansas’ scoring averaging 19.5 including 28 points, nine rebounds and five assists against Penn.
Off the bench Stanley Umude, the graduate transfer forward via the University of South Dakota, posted his best game against Penn scoring 19 points with seven rebounds.