Many Razorback fans aren’t in the Christmas spirit after the total 180 Arkansas’ basketball team has taken since early December. The Hogs lost their first home game of the season to Western Kentucky on December 8th, struggled in a win over Texas-San Antonio in North Little Rock a week later followed by another home loss to Georgia Tech four days after that.
Suddenly a team that was projected to the an NCAA Tournament six seed after reeling off six straight wins has hit the skids. The Internet has exploded with angry fans still reeling from Arkansas’ 2-10 football season. Contrast that reaction to Razorback guard Mason Jones’ measured words following a 69-65 loss to Georgia Tech. He said, “We got to trust the process. People might not see the process right now but I feel like this is all a plan. So I feel like we gonna be good down the road. We just got a little hiccups and battles right now that we got get over.”
Jones was mostly smiling in his post game session before the media. He can be forgiven as a first year Razorback on a team loaded with youth who obviously is looking at this season as a learning process leading better days ahead.
In his eighth year on the Hill head coach Mike Anderson is held to a stricter standard by many. Some fans feel he has been given more than the time necessary to bring back the national respect this program enjoyed under his mentor Nolan Richardson.
Mulling over the game stats Anderson said of the Georgia Tech loss, “We had sixteen turnovers. They had eight steals and there were turnovers that we just gave them. Guys not being in that attack mode. Setting passes up, making good passes.”
The visitors’ matchup zone limited Arkansas to 38% shooting for the game. In addition the ‘Jackets out rebounded the Hogs 43-31 and outscored them 30-26 in the paint.
“We settled,” Anderson explained. “Half our shots were three point shots and we’re not that type of team.”
Georgia Tech had no such shooting problems, hitting 45 % for the game led by point guard Jose Alvarado who scored 20 without ever seeing the bench.
“I don’t know how many guys have come in here as the point guard and played 40 minutes and win a game,” Georgia Tech Head coach Josh Pastner bragged. “That’s not easy to do.”
The game may have been mostly played at the slower pace that the ‘Jackets wanted but Alvarado caught Arkansas napping in transition several times in the game. “In the scouting report coach said just try to push the ball as fast as you can,” he noted. “Push it when you can and be smart about it and that’s what I was trying to do. I wasn’t really thinking slow it down. My coach said before the game they press a lot so if you get a rebound just keep going.”
A day later, as he addressed reporters prior to Saturday’s home game against a 10-1 Texas State team, Anderson said, “I thought we had ample opportunities to take control of the game. I want to see if we can get that taste out of our mouth and play with great energy. That’s gonna be the big key in this game here.”
“They’re a very good defensive team,’ Anderson continued. “They want the game to be in a mid pace to slow tempo. We’re going to have to really step up our game.”
Anderson indicated he might shake up his lineup some. “Sometimes you get complacent and you got to shake it up some so we can get that energy that we got to play with,” he declared.
Perhaps better energy from his players will bring better energy from the crowd because in both home losses this season this team appeared to take its own fans out of the game with mistakes and a lack of hustle.
Where Anderson’s guys go from here is anybody’s guess but the fact is, in an arena where Arkansas teams have won over 80% of their games, this group is just 5-2 with a host of tougher conference games coming up. Pastner made several references to how tough it is for opposing teams in Walton Arena. The truth is it’s not that tough when the home team gives up its home court advantage.