By Kevin McPherson
FAYETTEVILLE — After taking a tough, two-point overtime loss against old Southwest Conference rival Texas on Friday, the Arkansas Razorbacks got well in a hurry in their home-opener Monday with an 81-58 win over California-Davis in front of an announced crowd of 6,373 at Bud Walton Arena.
Arkansas (1-1) jumped out to an 11-0 lead and never trailed in the game. The Razorbacks have now won 45 consecutive home-openers, and they improved to 2-0 all time against the UC Davis Aggies (includes a 68-59 Arkansas win on Nov. 29, 2008, in Fayetteville).
“It was good to have an opportunity to get back on the floor and get that bitter taste out after a tough loss to Texas at Fort Bliss,” said Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson, who is now 17-0 in home-openers as a college head coach, including 8-0 at Arkansas. “I thought we came out and made some tough shots early on and had good energy.”
After struggling with turnovers (18) and free throw shooting (54.2%) against Texas on Friday, Arkansas won the turnover battle against UC Davis (24-15) as well as points off turnovers (26-8), and the Hogs had an improved effort at the free throw line (27-of-41 for 65.9%, including 21-of-27 in the second half for 77.8%).
Sophomore wing Mason Jones led the Hogs with game-highs of 21 points (6-of-10 field goals including 4-of-7 from 3, and 5-of-7 free throws) and 8 rebounds, and junior forward Adrio Bailey had a career-high 20 points, including his first career made 3-pointer and a 9-of-11 effort at the free throw line. Freshman guard Isaiah Joe finished with 14 points (including 2-of-5 from 3), 5 rebounds, and 3 steals, and sophomore center Daniel Gafford had 12 points (3-of-3 field goals including 2 dunks, plus 6-of-9 free throws), 4 rebounds, 4 blocks, 2 assists, and 6 turnovers.
“Adrio was like a veteran player out there,” Anderson said. “I think that was his career high tonight. He’s playing and got to the free throw line and made free throws. And Dan made free throws.”
Gafford — a consensus preseason All SEC 1st team pick and a projected 2019 NBA Draft lottery pick — continues to have positive impact and production, but he also had his second consecutive game with 6 turnovers. As was the case against Texas, most of his giveaways were a result of his struggles passing out of, or attacking, defensive double-teams.
“He’s just got to be a little bit more efficient and not be as sloppy, because, again, they’re going to get physical,” Anderson said of Gafford’s turnovers woes. “He’s got to determine how they’re calling the game. He’s got to be strong with the ball. A lot of time he goes in and he’ll lose the ball, and they’re going the other way.
“You’ve got to man up. That’s going be my message to him. You’ve got to be strong with the basketball. You’ve got the attention. You wanted it, you got it. So now you’ve got to be able to handle it. That’s how you improve as a player. You get mentally tough and you get physically tough as well.”
In addition to starting the game on an 11-0 run, the Hogs used a 10-2 run for a 25-12 first-half lead before UC Davis whittled the deficit down to 7 at halftime, 37-30.
Initially, Arkansas’s free throw problems carried over from the Texas game as the Hogs were only 6-of-14 at the break (42.9%), which helped keep the Aggies close through the first 20 minutes.
The second half was a different story at the foul line as Arkansas made 21-of-27 (77.8%) to pull away. The Hogs began the final 20 minutes with an 11-4 run for a 48-34 lead, and after a 7-0 UC Davis spurt cut the advantage down to 48-41, the Hogs strung together another run, 10-1, for a 58-42 lead at the 8:42 mark.
UC Davis would get within 9, 63-54, with 5:19 to play, but the Hogs closed the game with an 18-4 run.
Bailey scored 16 of his points in the decisive second half, and Arkansas’s starters accounted for 69 of the team’s 81 points.
The Hogs’ bench play was somewhat improved against UC Davis (60 minutes and 12 points) compared to their showing against Texas (47 minutes and only 4 points against the ‘Horns), but the Aggies’ bench outscored Arkansas’s reserves by 5 points.
Freshman guard Keyshawn Embery-Simpson played 18 minutes off the bench and had 7 points and 2 steals; freshman guard Desi Sills had 2 points and 1 rebound in 15 minutes; sophomore Gabe Osabuohien had 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block in 14 minutes; freshman forward Reggie Chaney had 3 points, 1 rebound, and 1 block in 11 minutes; and freshman forward Ethan Henderson played 2 minutes in his first action of the season.
“Once they (Hogs’ bench) get connected, we’re going to be a dangerous team,” sophomore wing Mason Jones said after the game.
Now Arkansas shifts its focus on Indiana of the Big 10 conference — a game set for an ESPN national television audience at 2:30 p.m. CT on Sunday at Bud Walton Arena — marking the Hogs’ second contest in their first three games of the season matching up against a high-major program.
The Razorbacks will have five days to prepare for the Hoosiers, the second of four Hardwood Classic opponents that will come to BWA in a two-week span — the final two Hardwood Classic opponents are Montana State on Wednesday, Nov. 21, and Texas-Arlington on Friday, Nov. 23.
Arkansas plays a total of 9 more in-state games (eight at home in Fayetteville, one in North Little Rock) in the months of November and December, including Western Kentucky at BWA on Dec. 8 and Georgia Tech at BWA on Dec. 19. The Razorbacks play only once more outside the state of Arkansas — at Colorado State on Dec. 5 — before opening up SEC play at Texas A&M on Jan. 5, 2019.
Rewinding the 5 Things on My Pre-Game Radar for Arkansas-UC Davis:
1) Free throw shooting … not that I expect free throws to be the difference in winning and losing this time out, but the Hogs so far have struggled at the line (64.1% in the preseason and 54.2% against Texas) and they need a game with at least a 70% finish at the line… collectively, the backcourt has shot the ball well on freebies (78-plus-% in the preseason and 72.7% against Texas), but the frontcourt has been another story … against Texas, Gafford (4-of-9), junior forward Adrio Bailey (0-of-2), and sophomore forward Gabe Osabuohien (1-of-2) combined for 38.5% free throw shooting, including a combined 1-of-4 in the final 9.4 seconds of regulation plus overtime … the key here is Gafford, who is going to be fouled a lot until he proves he can make a respectable clip … will the frontliners settle down at the line and show improvement against UC Davis?
Result: Hogs turned a rough first half (6-of-14 for 42.9%) around in the second half (21-of-27 for 77.8%), and maybe more importantly the starting frontline of Daniel Gafford and Adrio Bailey combined for 15-of-20 for 75.0% … Arkansas should have enjoyed a double-digit halftime lead, but the poor results on freebies kept UC Davis in the game at the break … still, Arkansas had a strong response in the second half, maybe something to build on going into the Indiana game.
2) Forcing turnovers and scoring in transition … this Arkansas team seems built to eventually be Anderson’s best in creating offense off its defense, but against a veteran Texas squad Anderson chose not to have his team press (three-quarters or full court) or extend traps beyond the perimeter in the halfcourt, instead relying mostly on a mix of man-to-man and a 2-3 matchup zone while springing some shallow-perimeter traps on the wings and baseline in the halfcourt … the result: only 6 steals and 2 fast-break points in a game that turned into a halfcourt grind for both teams … against UC Davis, look for Anderson to unleash the young puppies … could be a big game for transition thrivers like sophomore point guard Jalen Harris and Gafford … sophomore wing Mason Jones is not a picture of athleticism, but he runs the floor and scores opportunistically in transition … plus, reserves Desi Sills, Gabe Osabuohien, and Reggie Chaney are all feisty defensively as well as geared to attack in the open court … does Arkansas turn the Aggies over early and often and cash in those opportunities at the other end?
Result: Arkansas won the turnover battle (24-15) and points off turnovers (26-8), but the Hogs cashed in 10 steals for only 4 fast-break points … after two games, Arkansas has a grand total of 6 points in transition.
3) Bench … Arkansas went into the Texas game already operating with only a 9-deep rotation, but the true depth in that game did not extend much beyond the starting five, who played 178 of the total 225 minutes (regulation and overtime) and scored 67 of the 71 points … Arkansas could afford to do that in a game that was played mostly in the halfcourt, but Texas won the bench scoring battle, 25-4 … UC Davis could provide an opportunity for Anderson to give the 11 players on scholarship who are healthy enough to suit up a chance to play, but expect the bulk of the bench work to go to these four players: Osabuohien, Sills, Chaney, and Keyshawn Embery-Simpson … will the Hogs’ depth and bench flip the scripts against the Aggies?
Result: Improvement, but not a lot. 60 minutes, 12 points, and 7 rebounds from 5 reserves was a notch better than Texas, but this kind of production is not reflective of Anderson’s typical bench impact … youth and inexperience obviously factoring in for now, but Arkansas needs more from it’s bench, especially frontliners Reggie Chaney and Gabe Osabuohien who struggled with foul trouble Monday night.
4) Gafford must get better against double-teams and at the free throw line … the 6-11 El Dorado native has refined some of his back-to-the-basket, low-post footwork and finishing moves, but he has been slow to pass out of double-teams and that was part of Arkansas’s problems in its halfcourt offense against Texas — Gafford had one-third of Arkansas’s 18 turnovers (6) and much of those were a result of trying to force a move through double-teams instead of passing quickly and smartly out of them, then re-establishing his position … and the free throw line continued to be a problem — 6-of-18 for 33.3% in the preseason, then 4-of-9 for 44.4% against Texas hurt the Hogs … Gafford’s 20 points, 12 rebounds, 2 blocks (and he forced many altered shots), and 1 steal in 33 minutes represented the kind of production expected of a consensus preseason All SEC 1st team pick and projected 2019 NBA Draft lottery pick, but teams are going to continue to double-team and spend fouls on Gafford … in tightly contested games, how he handles those situations will often be the difference in winning and losing, and though UC Davis might not present that kind of challenge, the Aggies do provide the next opportunity for Gafford to work through those issues — will he show improvement tomorrow night?
Result: Mixed bag as Gafford was 6-of-9 from the foul line (66.7%), but another 6-turnover outing … against Texas he was slow reacting to the double-teams, but against UC Davis he appeared to be rushing and once again his timing was off and forced … 12 points, 4 rebounds, 4 blocks, and 2 assists were his positive impacts on the win.
5) Mo’ Joe going toward the hole … look, we’re not complaining about the outstanding start from freshman shooting guard Isaiah Joe — 19-of-31 shooting from 3 and only 3 turnovers in the preseason and 5-of-8 from distance en route to 17 points and only 1 turnover against the Longhorns — BUT, Joe has the ability to create more offense off the dribble, and though we’re not suggesting he force the issue, UC Davis likely gives him a chance to show more of that part of his game … Joe’s an outstanding free throw shooter, too, and as teams game plan to run him off the 3-point line, mixing in some dribble-drive game can make teams pay for closing hard on him and will also get him to the free throw line … obviously, Joe has played smart basketball while being a productive and efficient shooter-scorer, and no doubt he’ll add more to his game, but we’re looking to see if he uses Monday night as a stage to put the ball on the floor and create in the middle game.
Result: Joe had 14 points, and he was 2-of-2 inside the 3-point line and 4-of-6 from the foul line to go with 2-of-5 shooting from 3 … he also had 5 rebounds, 3 steals, and 2 assists … nice all-around game for the freshman guard who showed more offensively off the bounce, getting into his middle game, and getting to the free throw line.