LITTLE ROCK — A narrow overtime loss to Texas in the season-opener Friday is barely in their rear-view mirror as the Arkansas Razorbacks seek their first win of the 2018-19 season Monday night against California-Davis in the their home-opener — the first of four consecutive home games being billed as the Hardwood Classic. It’s a quick three-day turnaround from what Razorbacks head coach Mike Anderson described Friday night as a “gut-wrenching” finish against the ‘Horns.
Tip-off against UC Davis (0-2) is set for 7 p.m. CT at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, and the game can be seen live via livestream through coverage provided by SEC Plus.
“Got back from Fort Bliss on early Saturday morning and Saturday we came in and just kind of shot and watched tape,” Anderson said Sunday during his press conference. “We got a chance to see all the things we’ve got to get better at. We talked about at the beginning of the year it’s going to be a process of finding out what we have and getting some questions answered. Building a team. One of the things that stand out right off is this: We’ve got to continue to build our bench. I thought the guys played quite few minutes in a game of that magnitude.
“It’s the first game and you are at a neutral site which was in Texas, and guys playing 39 minutes. When you are asking guys to give it to you offensively and defensively obviously there are going to be some periods where they are going to play through a little fatigue. That’s why you are looking through part of the mishaps. Two of the things that stand out: Turnovers and free throws.”
Akansas (0-1) had its chances to put Texas away at the free throw line late in regulation Friday in the Armed Force Classic at Fort Bliss in El Paso, TX, but a 1-of-2 trip at the line by sophomore center Daniel Gafford for a three-point Hogs’ lead with 9.4 seconds remaining left the door cracked for the ‘Horns, and senior guard Kerwin Roach drained a 3-pointer from the right wing with 0:01 left that sent the game to overtime. After the teams traded the lead during the first four minutes of the extra period, Texas would score the final 3 points in the final 0:47 to prevail, 73-71.
A strong second half defensively (and in the paint offensively) helped Arkansas quickly erase a 36-30 halftime deficit in a game that became a back-and-forth, one possession affair in the final 10 minutes of regulation and overtime, but a 13-of-24 overall performance at the free throw line (54.2%) combined with losing the turnover battle (18-14), only scoring 2 fast-break points the entire game, and losing the bench scoring battle (25-4) was ultimately too much to overcome for the Razorbacks.
Gafford — a consensus preseason All SEC 1st team pick and a projected 2019 NBA Draft lottery pick — led the Hogs with team-highs of 20 points, 12 rebounds, and 2 blocks. But the 6-11 El Dorado native struggled playing through double-teams (he had a team-high 6 turnovers) and at the free throw line (4-of-9 for 44.4%).
“You’re No. 1 on the scouting report now, you’ve got to be able to handle that,” Anderson said of Gafford’s turnovers and how he handled Texas’s defensive double-teams. “Sometimes simple is better. I think he kind of over-thought the situation. He was trying to split traps. Just doing stuff that he normally doesn’t do. And Daniel’s a really good passer. That’s why it surprised me, him having that many turnovers. So he’s got be better.”
Freshman guard Isaiah Joe of Fort Smith had 17 points (6-of-10 field goals including 5-of-8 from 3) and only 1 turnover; sophomore point guard Jalen Harris had 11 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals; sophomore wing Mason Jones had 11 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists; and junior forward Adrio Bailey had 8 points and 5 rebounds.
The Hogs’ starters had 67 of the team’s 71 points, and they played 178 of the 225 minutes.
Now Arkansas shifts its focus to the UC Davis Aggies of the Big West conference, a team that comes to Fayetteville following blowout losses against San Francisco (76-42) and San Diego (76-57) last week. UC Davis is led by 5-9 senior guard T.J. Shorts II and 6-11 junior center Matt Neufield, both averaging a team-best 9.5 points per game.
“Now we get ready for the University of California-Davis,” said Anderson, who is now 1-7 at Arkansas in season-openers but unbeaten in home-openers. “It’s a team that’s played couple of games and of course that’s going to be to their advantage — having played. They lost those games but coming to Arkansas I’m sure they are looking forward to it.
“But I want to see us build on what took place in that Texas game. It was a game that we were in position to win but just had some things that broke down. We didn’t execute. That’s what took place. But that one there is done. We are playing a Cal-Davis that returns a lot of players from last year.”
Following the UC Davis game, Arkansas will have five days to prepare for the second of four Hardwood Classic matchups at BWA — a Sunday, Nov. 18, tilt against Indiana of the Big 10. 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 10 in-state games (nine 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.
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?
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?
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?
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?
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.
Hoop Hogs recruiting update:
— 2019 Hog commit Justice Hill (5-11 point guard, Little Rock Christian Academy, Joe Johnson Hawks) is only 3 days away from signing his national letter of intent with Arkansas — he’ll do so at 9:45 a.m. Wednesday at Warrior Hall on the LRCA campus — but he’s also still in the thick of the Arkansas high school football playoffs after quarterbacking the Warriors over Greenbrier, 63-26, Friday night. Hill was 24 of 32 passing for 281 yards and 1 touchdown to go with 22 carries for 177 yards rushing and 6 touchdowns — that’s 458 yards and 7 touchdowns on offense.
“It’s awesome,” Hill said of his big week of football and basketball opportunities. “I’m blessed in every way. I give God all the glory, none of this is possible without Him and I pray He continues to bless me and also my team through this playoff run.”
Hill will graduate early from LRCA and enroll at Arkansas in mid-December, joining the Razorbacks for most of the season with the expectation of going through practices, traveling with the team, acclimating to college life as a student-athlete, then beginning his four year of playing eligibility in the 2019-20 season.
— 2019 Hog offer Javon Franklin (6-7 combo forward, Holmes Community College in Mississippi via Little Rock Parkview) said Sunday that he sees a silver lining in his recent season-ending leg injury suffered in Holmes’ season-opener.
Oh yes, I feel better knowing that,” Franklin said of the opportunity to effectively pick up an extra season at the NCAA Division 1 level. By redshirting in 2018-19, Franklin will have three years of playing eligibility beginning in ’19-20 at whichever D1 program he chooses.
In the off-season, Franklin put in hours in the gym improving his ball-handling and perimeter shooting skill to complement his explosive effectiveness in the paint. He had 6 points (on 3-of-3 field goals), 3 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 blocks just 11 minutes into Holmes’ season-opener against Copiah-Lincoln Community College on Thursday, Nov. 1 when an opposing player “fell on (Franklin’s) leg and broke the lower part, a clean break,” according to Holmes head coach Jason Flanigan.
Franklin had surgery on Friday, Nov. 2, and was out of the hospital the same weekend. He said he was expecting to be out at least “three months” recovering from the injury.
Franklin, who said coaches from “Arkansas, Memphis, Auburn, and Seton Hall” had reached out to check on him shortly after the injury, is planning to take his official visit to Arkansas on a weekend during basketball season when the Hogs are playing a home game, and he intends to sign during the spring period that begins in April 2019. He is beng recruited by Arkansas, Memphis, Auburn, Ole Miss, Missouri, Kansas State, Seton Hall, Wichita State, and San Diego State among others.
“Once I start walking again, that’s when I’ll start my visits,” Franklin said.
— 2020 Hog offer Davonte Davis (6-3 combo guard, Jacksonville, Woodz Elite, ESPN No. 58 / 4-star prospect) did not take his unofficial visit to Arkansas on Saturday as originally planned, but instead will make the trip to Fayetteville on Sunday, Nov. 18, for the Arkansas-Indiana game. Davis holds offers from Arkansas, Oregon, Florida, Oklahoma State, Auburn, Ole Miss, and others. He has already taken 2 of his 5 allotted junior-year official visits — to Auburn and Oklahoma State — and he said he intends to schedule one with Arkansas, possibly while he is on his unofficial visit with the Hogs.
— 2019 Jalyn McCreary (6-8 forward, Legacy Early College High School in South Carolina by way of the Atlanta area) said on Tuesday that Arkansas assistant coach T.J. Cleveland continues to maintain contact with him and his head coach at Legacy, and that Arkansas coaches have indicated they intend to come watch him play in the near future.
“They said after the Texas game,” confirmed McCreary, who originally thought Arkansas coaches would be out to see him during Legacy’s on-campus jamboree on Oct. 27, but McCreary took the ACT the same day and missed most of the jamboree as Hog coaches did not make the trip.
McCreary will sign in the spring. He holds offers from Xavier, UMass, and South Florida among others, and he’s taken one official visit (South Florida), an unofficial visit (Xavier in June), and he attended Georgia Tech’s midnight madness practice event in mid-October. He’s also drawing interest from Texas, Georgetown, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, and Kansas State.