BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
To have a chance to grab a win over No. 10 Arkansas on Saturday, Bradley head coach Brian Wardle knew his team would have to take care of the basketball and play its best game of the season.
Instead the Razorbacks forced the Braves into a whopping 27 turnovers and raced away to a 76-57 win at Simmons Bank Arena in North Little Rock.
There was a crowd of 16,675 in Arkansas’ only Central Arkansas appearance this season.
“They do this to everybody they play,” Wardle said. “Maybe not to the extreme we did today, but they are top 10 in the nation in creating turnovers and scoring off turnovers. This is what they thrive on, this is what they do and we just started the game off like that and could never really respond.
“…Their length and their speed is elite and they are definitely a Final Four type team. They have that talent.”
Bradley lost to Auburn 85-64 on Nov. 22 in Cancun.
“The aggressive, physical teams haver bother us – Auburn and Arkansas,” Wardle said…Now we won’t see another team like this the rest of the year probably, but we are hoping we can contend here and get in the NCAA Tournament and play a team like this.
But we have got to be more ready.”
Ward is glad his team schedule the game, but not how it didn’t show toughness.
“It was a good experience – win or lose,” Wardle said. “We will learn. We had too many segments of tender play. We have got to be tougher, chin the ball and turnovers killed all our run. Anytime we had momentum, we turned the ball over in bunches.
“When we didn’t turn it over, we actually got good shots usually and did good things offensively. Defensively, I thought we guard well enough to win a game, but we just gave them 30-something points in transition off of our turnovers.
“And then we just had too many segments where weren’t tough, especially with the ball on offense.”
Bradley (7-4) was riding a four-game winning streak, including a 56-54 win at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville in it is last game on Dec. 6.
“I thought we would be ready for this game and put on a good show and compete with this team, but it is hard to simulate their length,” Wardle. “They are extremely aggressive, a handsy team, they are very long and very fast in the open floor.
“We just gave them what too many easy baskets with our turnovers.”
Arkansas freshman Jordan Walsh had 16 of his 18 points on the first half while shooting 7-of-7 from the floor.
Ricky Council had 16 points and Anthony Black 15.
“He (Walsh) is a very talented player and I thought and they bullied us to the rim a bunch, especially at the start of the game,” Wardle said. “We didn’t hold our ground, we didn’t chest them up and own your territory, own your one-on-one battle.
“That is what was said at halftime. We have got to take more pride in cheating up and holding our spot and owning our one-on-one battle. We did not do that.
“These games expose you. It definitely exposed some things that we are continuing to work on and I know what need to work on. As a head coach, I don’t think I have seen any of my teams turn the ball over like that. That has got to be a record for me as a head coach.”
It was especially distressing as it was a focal point entering the game.
“Your are never winning that game with turnovers and that was our number one key,” Wardle said. “That is all we been trying to improve on in the last 11 days during finals was ball movement, passing, chinning, pivoting and just being solid with the basketball.”
Bradley was last in the NCAA Tournament in 2019 and got to the Sweet 16 in 2006.
“We are going to win these games one day ,” Wardle said. “We are getting closer. We have in the past pre-covid and we are going to back to that level. We just have longer segments of toughness and taking care of the ball.”