By Kevin McPherson
Arkansas sophomore forward Trevon Brazile blew up for a game-high 28 points on 13-of-15 field goal shooting, and the Razorbacks maintained their unswerving devotion to pounding the paint and attacking the rim while holding another opponent below 60 points in a 70-59 win over veteran Danish pro club Bakken Bears on Monday in Lake Como, Italy, as the Hoop Hogs ran through their four-game European exhibition tour unbeaten at 4-0.
The Razorbacks enjoyed 2-0 finishes in each of Spain and Italy. The team will return home to Fayetteville on Tuesday.
Arkansas unofficially totaled 40 dunks in four games on this tour while averaging 88.0 points per outing with a 23.5-point average winning margin. The Hogs defeated each opponent — Valencia Seleccion, Catalan Elite, Orange1 Basket Bassano, and Bakken Bears — by double digits. Only Catalan Elite managed to reach at least 60 points in a game against Arkansas.
Against Bakken, Arkansas’ defense was suffocating in helping forge a 15-point lead, 20-5, at the end of the first quarter as the Hogs held their opponent to only 1-of-13 field goal shooting (7.7%). And though Bakken would eventually warm up to close within single-digits on a few occasions, the Hogs always responded with runs to reinstall double-digit leads. A 9-0 Arkansas run in the middle of third quarter extended a 9-point lead to an 18-point cushion, 50-32, and a 7-0 Arkansas run to start the fourth quarter pushed a 9-point lead out to a 16-point advantage, 62-46.
Despite leading wire-to-wire, Arkansas was once again sloppy with turnovers, committing a tour-worst 30 giveaways. The Razorbacks dished out 19 assists on 30-of-61 shooting from the field (49.2%), including 3-of-13 from 3 (23.1%), and 7-of-8 from the foul line (87.5%). Arkansas for the second consecutive game had strong performances on defense and on the glass. The Hogs were plus-12 in rebounding (44-32) and they held Bakken to 20-of-64 field goal shooting (31.3%), including 5-of-26 from 3 (19.2%), while forcing 27 turnovers (including 15 Arkansas steals). The Bears made 14-of-19 free throws as they more than doubled the Hogs in freebie attempts.
“Tonight I’m really happy with how we played both sides of the ball, other than the turnovers,” fourth-year head coach Eric Musselman said. “The turnovers are something that, look, when you play high school basketball, turnovers are accepted because your talent can take over. You can’t turn over the ball in the SEC and win. There’s too many close games. So now we have concrete evidence to show guys what we have to do better.
“We beat a really good team, a really experienced team with 30 turnovers. That’s what happens when you have a lot of new guys. You’re going to turn the ball over a lot. Obviously, our goal is nine, so that has to drastically, drastically improve. Now we are able to go back and work on it.”
Arkansas had 10 dunks in the contest and close to double that amount in layups and paint finishes. Half of the Hogs’ throw-downs belonged to Brazile, who in addition to his 28 points added game-high-matching efforts in rebounds (9), steals (4), and minutes (35) to go with 2 assists and 2 turnovers. Brazile finished the foreign tour shooting 29-of-34 from the field (85.3%) combined through four games.
“I thought he played incredible the entire time,” Musselman said of Brazile’s full body of work playing in Europe. “I know it’s exhibition games and all that, but he played as well as any guy that I’ve seen play over a four-game stretch. If you look at his numbers, they’re absolutely insane, what he’s done.
“He’s just so quick to the ball. He’s so long. He runs the floor. He can play facing the basket. He can play with his back to the basket. I thought he was just unbelievable. He’s got an incredible, incredible future ahead of him as well.”
Brazile believes he raised his level of play in the final two games of the tour.
“Over the first two games I wasn’t satisfied with my play,” he said. “I feel like I could’ve played way better rebounding-wise and just on the perimeter in general, maybe defense, too. The second set of games in Italy, I feel like I played way better defensively and rebounding. Like I said, that’s just how I play. I’m just motored to play like that. I’m motored to play, run the rim, and do the little things.”
Freshman combo guard Nick Smith, Jr., came into the Bakken matchup as Arkansas’ leading scorer on the tour (18 points per game on efficient shooting). But he tallied only 5 points, 2 assists, 1 rebound, and 1 steal on Monday as he was limited to only 13 minutes (all in the first half) due to suffering a “first-degree knee sprain” on a floor slip, according to Musselman, who added, “We think he’s going to be fine.”
Playing off the bench, junior combo guard Devo Davis and junior wing Ricky Council IV each scored 10 points. Davis was 4-of-6 shooting from the field and 2-of-2 at the foul line while contributing 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 steals in 28 minutes, but he also had a team-high 7 turnovers. Council added 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals, and 4 turnovers to his scoring output in 35 minutes.
Senior forward Kamani Johnson had another blue-collar productive game with 8 points (4-of-7 field goals), a game-high-matching 9 rebounds (3 on the offensive glass), a game-high-matching 4 steals, and 1 assist in 25 minutes. Freshman point guard Anthony Black chipped in 4 points, a game-high 7 assists, 1 block, and 5 turnovers in 27 minutes.
All 13 scholarship Hogs played, but only 8 saw double-digit minutes.
Musselman improved to 8-0 all-time in exhibition games as Head Hog, which includes 2-0 marks just prior to each of the ’19-20 and ’21-22 seasons (the Razorbacks did not play exhibition games in the ’20-21 season due to the covid-19 pandemic).
Musselman started the quintet of Smith, Black, Brazile, Johnson, and Barry Dunning, Jr.
The Hogs opened the first quarter with hot shooting and aggressive, determined run-outs in transition. Smith hit a three-point field goal to open the scoring, then Brazile went off for 11 points as the Hogs raced ahead 20-5 through the end of the first quarter while holding the Bakken Bears to 1-of-13 field goal shooting (their first basket came in the closing 10 seconds of the period) and forcing 11 turnovers.
The Hogs would grow their lead to as many as 17 points — 35-18 on a dunk by Council — but the Bakken Bears strung together two 5-0 mini runs down the stretch of the half to pull within 39-30 in the final minute. Then Davis banked in a shot to beat the buzzer as the Hogs moved ahead 41-30 at the break.
Brazile led all scorers with 19 points (9-of-9 field goals and 1-of-1 free throw) to go with 4 steals, 3 rebounds, and 1 assist in the first half.
Arkansas shot 17-of-30 from the field (56.7%), including 2-of-6 from 3 (33.3%), and 5-of-5 from the free throw line. But the Hogs suffered 15 first-half turnovers while losing the rebounding battle (17-15). Defensively, the Hogs yielded 9-of-29 field goals (31.0%), including 3-of-14 from 3 (21.4%). Bakken made 9-of-13 free throws (69.2%) in the first 20 minutes.