Even before Mike Anderson took his youthful Razorbacks to Baton Rouge to face an LSU team that was unbeaten at home and in the SEC there were signs that the Hogs were starting to improve. In a three-game stretch where Arkansas won two games and played well in a close loss to a Texas Tech team that at one point had been ranked in the top five in the country, Arkansas’ defense looked much better than it did in lopsided losses to Tennessee and Ole Miss. The offense was still spotty but had been consistent down the stretch in wins over Missouri and Georgia.
These kids had also played LSU to overtime in a seven-point loss at Bud Walton Arena. But there was nothing to indicate that they could become the first visiting team beat the Tigers on their home court in over a year.
So how did they do it?
Shooting. Jump shots that went down instead of bricking. In a 90-89 shocker the Razorbacks shot 58% from the floor and 54% from three point range. It wasn’t one or two players that got hot. It was, for a change, balanced scoring. Five players scored in double figures led by Daniel Gafford who put up 33 and Isaiah Joe who dropped in 18.
The win was all the more remarkable considering that in a whistle plagued game LSU shot 38 free throws to just 11 for Arkansas. Down by a point with :30 to play the Razorbacks faced a daunting task. They had to try to get somebody open for a possible game winner without Gafford and without point guard Jaylen Harris who had both fouled out of the game.
Jones, who is a take charge kind of player, good or bad, made like a point guard and somehow managed to maneuver through LSU’s tight half court defense for a short jumper in front of the basket. A jumper that was not swatted. A jumper that went in.
So with a one point lead they had to play the final 22 seconds without giving up a game winner on the defensive end. The Tigers, who scored 22 second chance points on the Hogs and won the battle of the boards 44-20, not suprisingly got off three shots to try to win it. All three were off the mark.
And so this team made up for its home loss to the Tigers by stealing one in Baton Rouge. It also has a road win at College Station to counter a home loss to Florida which puts Mike Anderson’s guys at 4-4 in the standings. Good enough for a four-way tie for sixth place near the halfway point in the conference race.
Can this upset propel Arkansas to a 5-5 finish or even 6-4? Nine and Nine would perhaps get this team an NCAA bid. Ten and eight would almost certainly do it.
There is a current thread on a popular Razorback Message board that is titled, “Winds of Change are back in the air in Fayetteville.” The suggestion is that Mike Anderson is near the end of his time running Arkansas’ basketball program. Personally I have found nothing to indicate that this is about to go down and that was before the LSU upset. I have not had time to gauge the impact of that win but anyone who seriously thinks that Anderson is about to be fired has been spending too much time on the Internet and not enough time in the real world.
Now let’s see what this young team can do with perhaps the biggest men’s basketball upset in the SEC so far this season.