Ole Miss clearly targeted Daniel Gafford in Saturday’s 17 point win over the Hogs in Oxford. The sophomore center was held to nine points after getting double and triple teamed for much of the game. He also suffered five turnovers. A standard complaint from fans this season is that Gafford’s teammates are doing a poor job of getting him the ball but Gafford was having none of that as he spoke to reporters Monday afternoon.
“I could have just moved around more instead of trying to post up and have my back to the basket,” Gafford pointed out. “l could have been setting screens, off-the-ball screens or ball screens for the guards. It’s just that I was standing in one spot too much.”
Head coach Mike Anderson had a different assessment, placing more of the blame on the Razobacks sharing the floor with Gafford.
“Our other guys are going to have to step up and make shots and finish off plays and take care of the basketball.” Anderson suggested. “I think he’s giving us everything he can.”
Early in the second half freshman forward Gabe Osabuohien got himself wide open under the basket as Gafford took the ball on the right side surrounded by Rebels. He threw over the top of the pressure and Osabuohien pulled the Hogs to within six points of the lead with an uncontested layup. But it was Gafford’s only assist of the game.
“Those other guys have to learn to play off of him,” Anderson complained. “That, to me, is the execution part that we’ve got to get better at.”
Indeed, more common was what happened earlier in the game when Gafford was double teamed at virtually the same spot on the floor. He managed to get the ball to freshman guard Isaiah Joe at the top of the lane but Joe was strippped as attempted to attack the basket, one of 13 steals for Ole Miss and 17 turnovers for Arkansas.
Gafford’s self criticism was not limited to the offensive end of the floor. He blamed himself for much of the damage Ole Miss did in the paint, scoring an astounding inside 44 points in the game.
“When teams get it on the inside against us it’s automatic,” Gafford confessed.” It’s like we have no resistance on the inside. Especially with big guys like me. I’m supposed to be blocking shots. I need to step up my defense.”
Both Gafford and Anderson agreed that at this point in the season defense is a bigger problem than offense.
“I think we’ve been trying to win games just with offense,” Anderson stressed, “and you can’t win with just offense in our league. It’s a wake up call because that’s what we’ve got to hang our hats on. Our defense.”
“Can that be fixed?” Anderson was asked.
“Yes,” Anderson answered. “I think we can fix it. It’s just a matter of getting guys on the same page. You got to talk on defense. Our defense is geared toward putting pressure on people and I think we’ve just been letting people run their offense. We’ve been kinda playing on our heels. We’ve got to be more aggressive.”
“We’ve got to be in rotation better,” Anderson continued. “Penetration is going to take place. We got to fix it. In the first half they got three or four screen and rolls and so the offside help, where guys are hugging their man on the offside, that’s got to be a lot better.”
With Missouri coming to Bud Walton arena on Wednesday Anderson feels good about Arkansas’ bench but knows his starters have got to play much better.
“The bright spot in the (Ole Miss) game was Keyshawn Embery,” (Simpson) Anderson pointed out. “Coming off the bench I thought he gave us some quality minutes. I thought Gabe gave us some really good minutes and so now, if you get some of those guys that are starting off playing at the level they’re capable of, we can have some of that ‘pop’ that you’ve got to play with. We’ve go to play with a little more pop, more energy. We’re an energy team.”