FAYETTEVILLE - Regardless Tuesday’s Arkansas vs. Oral Roberts University Golden Eagles outcome, Mike Anderson promised not to be a “total Scrooge” giving his Razorbacks time off for pre-Christmas.
The schedule of 9-2 Arkansas playing a nonconference game next Wednesday at Walton Arena against California-Bakersfield and opening its SEC season Dec. 30 against Tennessee at Walton doesn’t allow the Razorbacks actually to be at their homes on Christmas Eve and Christmas.
But with the Razorbacks routing ORU, 104-69 in the forcing ORU 27 turnovers fashion they achieved, Anderson enthusiastically sent them home effective after the game until reconvening Saturday in Fayetteville.
“I’ll have a good Christmas,” Anderson replied to a Christmas question posed postgame Tuesday. “They will, too. They’re shooting out of here tonight and tomorrow and get a few days to go and enjoy with the family. They’re playing well. As a coach, you hate to stop because they have a nice rhythm going, but we all know what’s in front of us. They’ll go home and go relax and enjoy it.”
Anderson did note he’ll have Christmas Eve and Christmas practices set to make any pay for having too much fun on their break.
“We’ll work our way up, so they’ll be practicing on Christmas,” Anderson said. “I’ll feed them (a Christmas dinner) but we’ll practice, probably twice, on Christmas.”
Starring against ORU Tuesday night to be made postgame media available, senior guard Jaylen Barford, hitting 8 of 9 shots scoring 18 against ORU with four assists and five steals, and freshman forward Daniel Gafford of El Dorado, 12 points on 5 of 7 from the field plus four rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots, both feigned horror at practicing twice on Christmas.
“It’s going to be a great break” Barford of going home to Jackson, Tenn. “Get the love from the home and family. Great food, but try not to eat too much. Since you told us we've got practice on two days I might go on a diet for about three days.”
Gafford joked the Christmas practice schedule may divert him from first coming home in El Dorado.
“To be honest, with you saying that we've got two practices on Christmas, I might go straight to the gym when I get to the house,” Gafford said. “But it just feels good to go home and see my family to be honest because it's been a while. The person I most want to see was my mom because in the Little Rock game she cried to me and said she missed me and I just had to see her. This was the opportunity to get to see her again.”
Anderson predicts while all can’t wait to get home, once they are there a part of them will can’t wait to back to Fayetteville.
“If you watch our team, they’re having fun,” Anderson said. “They’re having fun. Even when the clock goes off, they’re having fun. That’s really, really unique and special when you have that going on. We have a lot of guys that are not only pulling for the first guy, but the last guy on the bench. When you have that going and you’re winning, it makes for a great atmosphere. It’s a good group to coach.”
Sophomore walk-on guard Jonathan Holmes, a valuable practice player become a fan favorite and team favorite coming in at the end of routs like last Tuesday’s, now has hit 5 for 11 from the field including two 3-pointers and galvanized the crowd hitting a baseline jumper in the last 27 seconds against ORU.
“I think he’s making a statement,” Anderson said. “Hey coach, I need more minutes!’ I guess that’s what he’s trying to say. It’s crazy. Can you imagine? Everybody in the gym knows you and you have maybe two minutes to go out there and play. The great thing about it is he doesn’t just try to go get it. Our guys do a good job of getting it to him, but the shot he made where he shoots the baseline floater, he was cool as a cucumber. But he does it in practice, too. Our guys have helped him get better from last year. He wouldn’t have done that last year.”
In fact on their way out of interview room postgame, Barford and Gafford chided media for requesting their postgame presence instead of Holmes.
“You guys need to do your job and bring Johnny in here,” Barford said.