Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson admitted that Friday’s win over Texas Arlington was anything but conventional. The Hogs connected on just two three pointers in the game and with a little over five minutes left in the first half led the visitors just 16-14.
“It’s funny because we were pressing them to speed ’em up and they were pressing us to slow us down,” Anderson said with a chuckle. “I think we got into a much better rhythm in the second half. The first half it was just kind of like they were still over at my house for Thanksgiving. But in the second half I thought we turned up the intensity on defense.
Sophomore forward Daniel Gafford pretty much kept his team in the game in the first half scoring 12 points, six of them on free throws in a contest dominated by fouls. The Razorback ended up with 34 points from the line on 74% shooting, a big improvement over the 59% they’d been hitting going into the game.
“Yeah, that was a little disappointing,” Mavericks head coach Chris Ogden cracked. “I thought they could have missed a couple for us the day after Thanksgiving. It’s all about giving, right?”
Gafford had simple explanation for Arkansas’ improved free throw shooting, telling reporters after the game, “Hard work pays off. You get the repetition in, you can get familiar with what you need to do on the free throw line. Like tonight I went nine for ten. Like coach says, shoot a hundred free throws. I make sure I get in every day after practice and shoot a hundred free throws.”
Razorbacks had a hard time shaking the visitors, leading just 54-45 with 9:26 left in the game when Gafford headed to the bench with four fouls. He would not return and surprisingly Arkansas did not need him.
“In some ways they’re harder to guard without him in,” Ogden suggested. “I know that sounds weird but they opened up the lane for drives and stuff like that. Obviously he’s a lottery pick but they closed it on a great run. We’ve got to learn how to stop the bleeding.”
The final 78-60 score left the Hogs with 32 points in the paint, 25 points off turnovers and 14 second chance points. With Gafford sitting Anderson made use of the opportunity to further develop 6-8 freshmen forward Reggie Chaney who finished the game with eight rebounds, eight points and a blocked shot. As he returned to the bench after the final buzzer the stone faced Chaney had a towel tossed into his face by Gafford.
“It’s just something I do to get some of the guys laughing,” Gafford explained. “I don’t like seeing sad faces. He (Chaney) had a good game and I wanted him to know he had a good game. Some of the mistakes he made he can learn off of it and I just wanted him to know that he had a good game and not to hold his head down or anything.”
Of Gafford Chaney said, “The transition (to the college level) has been a struggle as you go against guys like you. Every day going against him gets me better. The thing he taught me since I’ve been here is just work hard. He works hard every day. He brings it every day. Like some practices I might not have a good practice so he always tells me to keep working no matter what.”
Anderson praised sophomore transfer Mason Jones who had just four points in the game after scoring 21 two days earlier against Montana State.
“Mason does not make a field goal but he has a big time impact on the game rebounding the basketball. The times he got the the free throw line he made it. So that tells you about this team. It’s starting to take shape and find its identity. Now we’ve got other guys that are contributing but we’re still a work in progress. We’re still trying to get better.”
After playing three games in six days Arkansas, now 4-1, will take eight days off before returning to Bud Walton to face Florida International on December 1st.