Favorite

Back to square one 

I just had to go and write a column extolling these basketball Hogs, didn't I?

After an impressive six-game run that was punctuated with a rout of Colorado State in Fort Collins, Colo. — exacting some small measure of vengeance for the Rams beating the football Hogs there in a crushing defeat in September — the Arkansas Razorbacks came back to a pretty lively Saturday afternoon gathering in Bud Walton Arena to take on a 4-4 Western Kentucky team that, based on its record alone, appeared average at best.

That was what the initial sheen would lead one to believe. Arkansas entered a double-digit favorite but there was sort of an inauspicious aura surrounding the game. The Hilltoppers had beaten West Virginia earlier in the year, and former Mississippi State Coach Rick Stansbury had clearly amassed a group of talented players led by Nigerian teenager Charles Bassey in the post. After the Hogs built an eight-point early lead and had the crowd behind them, Bassey started to assert some dominance against Hogs center Daniel Gafford, which led a lot of folks to murmur about Gafford's alleged professional caliber.

Make no mistake, Gafford was productive. He had 17 points and nine rebounds, hit all three of his free throws, and stayed out of foul trouble. But when Bassey, who bested Gafford's scoring output with 21, decided he wanted to go to work against the lankier El Dorado product, he essentially had his way. The Hilltoppers were within striking distance at halftime, and then basically put together a near-perfect second half, shoring up their perimeter defense, protecting the rim, and swishing threes at an uncanny rate, some of which were reasonably well-contested.

Arkansas did manage to nudge back ahead on a Gafford score with less than a minute to play, but the Hilltoppers executed a well-designed interior play of their own when Bassey fed Marek Nelson to put WKU ahead 78-77. The Hogs then had an infuriating final possession, with Jalen Harris waiting far too long to begin the action toward the rim and then getting a layup attempt forcibly blocked by Bassey. That left the Hogs with 1.8 seconds to come up with a final play, and they opted to lob to Gafford, who had to angle his body awkwardly among the interior defenders and failed to draw iron on the play.

It was precisely the kind of game that the Hogs had managed to avoid, save for two notable exclusions. The opener against Texas was a nip-and-tuck affair that should've been a season-opening victory for the Hogs but with a three-point lead late they left the Longhorns' best scorer an unchallenged three, which he drilled to send the game to overtime. That ended in a loss, and then days later, the Hogs hosted Indiana and survived with a one-point win only because Mason Jones was the victim of an ignorant Hoosier foul after a defensive rebound, and he made the one free throw needed to secure that win.

Because of Arkansas's overall inexperience those close games can be nightmarish, and that is why it has become critical for the hoopsters to build and maintain sizable leads. When they've done that, they look like one of the country's most dynamic and composed young teams. When tasked with guarding the narrowest of leads or overcoming a close deficit, the results have been decidedly less than favorable.

This game may have also cast an unflattering light on some of Gafford's weaknesses. He's still inconsistent with his shooting stroke, which is not even that big of an indictment given his wonderful gifts around the basket as a scorer, rebounder, passer and rim protector. But Bassey had the edge in girth and used it masterfully in the paint (and, to be clear, Gafford wasn't always the victim). Because Gafford has a leaner physique and the associated agility therewith, he's sometimes viewed as being a little soft, and that may be an unfair designation. But what it does mean for the Hogs is that freshmen forwards Reggie Chaney and Jordan Phillips, two guys with Bassey-like builds, will have to keep maturing and at an even quicker pace than they've showed so far.

Arkansas slipped to 6-2 with the loss and gets to host University of Texas-San Antonio on Saturday at North Little Rock's Verizon Arena. This game looks like a lopsided one on paper, but, of course, Arkansas has just shown that it can be susceptible to an upset if the opponent plays a fearless brand of basketball, shows a willingness to attack Gafford rather than to dance around him, and crashes the boards and distributes the ball.

Favorite

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Beau Wilcox

  • Welcome, Coach Muss

    He's a guy with a genetic coaching pedigree and, evidently, a savant-like gameplanner.
    • Apr 8, 2019
  • Farewell, Mr. Anderson

    Any epitaph on someone’s coaching tenure is customary rife with negativity. This coach disgraced the program by falling off a motorcycle, lying about the circumstances, and hiring a young blond with no conceivable credentials as his “aide.”
    • Apr 1, 2019
  • Hogs flop in SEC tourney

    Arkansas has had a curious history in the SEC men’s basketball tournament. The 1994 national champs were ousted from it by a stellar Kentucky squad, and when that happened, it seemed to provide a spark as the Hogs spent the next three weeks wiping out their competitors to claim the ultimate crown.
    • Mar 15, 2019
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Time for Anderson to go

    Arkansas’s standby excuse during the lean portions of the Mike Anderson era has been reduced to one word or its variants thereof: “youth.”
    • Feb 18, 2019

Latest in Pearls About Swine

  • Welcome, Coach Muss

    He's a guy with a genetic coaching pedigree and, evidently, a savant-like gameplanner.
    • Apr 8, 2019
  • Farewell, Mr. Anderson

    Any epitaph on someone’s coaching tenure is customary rife with negativity. This coach disgraced the program by falling off a motorcycle, lying about the circumstances, and hiring a young blond with no conceivable credentials as his “aide.”
    • Apr 1, 2019
  • Hogs flop in SEC tourney

    Arkansas has had a curious history in the SEC men’s basketball tournament. The 1994 national champs were ousted from it by a stellar Kentucky squad, and when that happened, it seemed to provide a spark as the Hogs spent the next three weeks wiping out their competitors to claim the ultimate crown.
    • Mar 15, 2019
  • More »

Most Viewed

 

© 2019 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation