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Hoop Hogs End Finals Break Thursday

Mike Anderson is hoping for better energy from his team when the Hogs return to the court Thursday against Tennessee-Martin.
FAYETTEVILLE--Razorback Basketball coach Mike Anderson partially blamed his team's sluggish first half against Savannah State on the approach of semester final exams. The Hogs won't have that problem against Tennessee-Martin Thursday night in Bud Walton Arena. A week-long layoff for finals will have ended.

Arkansas limped into halftime of that game with a meager 27-25 lead against the 2-8 Tigers. So what was the problem?

"I just thought we were flat, that's the bottom line," Anderson told reporters afterward. "We didn't make shots. Against Clemson we made shots. "

Actually one Razorback was making shots. If not for Ky Madden the Hogs might have been trailing at the half. Madden finished with 21 points, a career high for the highly rated junior guard who until this season had not lived up to his recruiting hype. After a slow start which included a two-game suspension to start the season, Madden has pushed his scoring average into double digits at 10.1 points per game.

"I just think it's confidence and just playing and not thinking a lot," Madden said of his improving offensive numbers. "Just going out there and doing what I've been doing my whole life and just staying focused and confident."

"I always thought he was capable of scoring. He did in high school," Anderson reflected. "Now that we have a presence inside, when you have guys that can score inside, they have to pay attention to that. Ky's open more and he's taking advantage of it. It's great to see him playing at a higher level. That makes our team that much more dangerous."

Arkansas uninspired first half performance was apparently at least partially due to the absence of sophomore guard Michael Qualls, the team's leading scorer. Anderson had suspended Qualls for a half after he showed up late for a practice leading up to the Savannah State game.

Qualls' teammates said he provided an energy boost after returning to the lineup in the second half.

"As soon as he came back in he's got like two major blocks so that was just a change of energy right there," senior guard Rickey Scott stressed.

"Mike's an energy guy," Anderson echoed. "It can get contagious and all of the sudden now the game speeds up. Now we're rebounding the ball. We're getting into the fast break mode. We're getting into our shots. We're scoring."

Indeed.

With Qualls in the lineup Arkansas scored 45 second half points to put the visitors away 72-43, moving the Hogs closer to their goal of being 11-2 going into their SEC opener on January 8th against Texas A&M at College Station.

Madden and Qualls weren't the only bright spots for the Razorbacks against the Tigers. Freshman forward Bobby Portis recorded a double double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Portis has been on a mission since getting punked in the opening game of the Maui Classic.

"After the California game, I had one rebound, so I just tried to come back from that. Just build on every game and just get more and more rebounds," Portis explained.

Anderson was also pleased with the 10 blocked shots his players recorded against Savannah State.

"We were pushing them toward the basket and we had guys in position," Anderson recalled. "But, let's be real. One guy got five of 'em. Moses (Kingsley) just makes a tremendous difference. Five blocked shots and seven rounds in the time that he played so his minutes will continue to go up."

Senior guard Mardracus Wade is one Razorback who is playing fewer minutes these days. Wade did not see the floor against the Tigers.

"He's got to keep working," Anderson stressed. "He's going to have an opportunity to continue to practice and keep fighting. That's what you got to do. We have some other guys who are playing well."

One of those "other guys" is senior guard Rickey Scott who scored seven points in 13 minutes of playing time in the game.

"At 6-3, 215, he's one of our more athletic players," Anderson said of Scott. "He's got a lot of God-given ability. I saw some things defensively that he hasn't done since I've been here. Maybe that's a sign that he's starting to understand that in order to get on the floor you got to be able to go out and produce."

As for the seven day layoff Anderson said," They'll have maybe one or two days off. We may have to bring in smaller groups of players to practice as we work around their test times but we're going to continue to work or our defense. Trying to get them to play forty minutes of really intense, uptempo basketball."
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