FAYETTEVILLE - Presumably, recalling last season’s 85-67 rout of the Georgia Bulldogs at Walton Arena would bolster the Arkansas Razorbacks’ confidence for their SEC visit tonight to the Bulldogs’ Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga.
It likely won’t. What the Razorbacks, 13-6 overall/3-4 in the SEC, have done this season at Walton, much less what they did last season at Walton, seems to bear no relationship to their outcomes on the road going into this 5:30 p.m. (CST) game televised by the SEC Network.
Arkansas is 0-4 in true road games this season, one a nonconference drubbing administered by the Houston Cougars in Houston and three in the SEC, one close at Mississippi State and two out of it down 17 and down 15 at half at Auburn and at Florida.
Besides, when Arkansas bludgeoned the Bulldogs last season at Walton, Georgia was without 6-8 Yante Maten, injured then but otherwise averaging 18.2 points and 6.8 rebounds.
Maten returns as a senior better than ever averaging 19.6 points and 9.1 rebounds for Coach Mark Fox’s Bulldogs, 12-6, 3-4.
“I think he was the Preseason Player of the Year pick and he’s having an outstanding year,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said Monday. “We know he’s a big, impact player on their basketball team.”
The big 243-pound forward has a big helper up front in Derek Ogbeide, the 6-8, 245 junior who scored 12 points with seven boards on Arkansas last season.
“He’s really, really good,” Anderson said. “Those guys kind of play off each other. Their strength is shooting it and going getting it. So it’s going to take a tremendous effort from our basketball team to keep them off the boards.”
Mike Edwards, a 6-9 junior, and Rayshaun Hammonds, a 6-9 freshman, keep the Bulldogs big on the boards when Maten and or Ogbeide need respites.
Senior Juwan Parker of Tulsa’s Booker T. Washington High returns as Georgia’s most experienced guard.
Georgia’s backcourt is unspectacular compared to an Arkansas backcourt relying on seniors Daryl Macon, used off the bench two of the last three games and averaging 15.8 points and 4.2 assists, Jaylen Barford, Arkansas’ leading scorer averaging 19.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists, and North Little Rock High grad and 4-year letterman Anton Beard, 10.4 points.
Yet the Razorbacks often have struggled defensively while Georgia leads the SEC in field goal defense, scoring defense and field goal percentage defense.
What makes Georgia’s defense so peachy?
“They're long and athletic,” Anderson said. “They do a good job of really packing the paint.”
And slowing uptempo teams like Arkansas to a crawl.
“I think tempo is very important in this game,” Anderson said. “They want it to be a halfcourt game. We've got to try to impose our will on them and that's got to be defensively and really attack these guys and make them use their bench.”
Arkansas got a big boost in its 97-93 SEC success over Ole Miss last Saturday at Walton by playing Macon, 20 points, including 11 of 12 free throws, and six assists, off the bench and getting a surprisingly good start from freshman Darious Hall, 11 points including 8 of 8 free throws.
Sophomore guard C.J. Jones, 11 points including three threes, and senior forwards Trey Thompson and Arlando Cook were also big off the bench against Ole Miss while Anderson, a “coach’s decision,” he said, didn’t play senior forward Dustin Thomas, normally a starter.
Anderson said against Georgia he plans on playing Thomas in a forward rotation that against Ole Miss started sophomore Adrio Bailey next to 6-11 mainstay Daniel Gafford, the El Dorado native named SEC Freshman of the Week after his 15 points, nine rebounds, three steals and three blocked shots against Ole Miss after his first collegiate double-double with 14 points and 11 boards in last Wednesday’s 88-73 loss at Georgia.
Gafford has become a consistent player home and road but the Razorbacks as a team have not.
Anderson said it all can be cured on the road starting with better, less foul prone, defense and taking wiser, more selective shots.
“We’ve got to take better shots and we’ve got to shoot the ball better,” Anderson said. “When adversity comes we can't spot people 15 points. They’ve got to play for each other and trust each other. You've got to hang around and give yourself a chance.”