FAYETTEVILLE - While University of Arkansas Chancellor Joe Steinmetz and Arkansas Interim Athletic Director Julie Cromer Peoples greeted Sunday trying to hire the Razorbacks next athletic director and head football coach, Coach Mike Anderson spent Sunday reviewing what hit his basketball Razorbacks last Saturday night in Houston.
Without a head football coach since firing Bret Bielema Nov. 24 minutes after the Razorbacks closed a 4-8 season, the Razorbacks and Auburn University commenced Sunday in an apparent bidding war for the services of Gus Malzhan, Auburn’s fifth-year head coach and a Fort Smith native and former Arkansas state champion high school coach and the Razorbacks’ 2006 offensive coordinator.
Five-year Auburn Coach Malzhan, under pressure from Auburn’s notoriously fickle fan base earlier this season, saw his Auburn stock soar closing the SEC regular season at home defeating then nationally No. 1 SEC East champion Georgia and winning the SEC West defeating then nationally No. 1 Alabama, but may have become more enchanted with Arkansas given some of the Auburn fans’ reactions to Georgia blowing out Auburn, 28-7 in Saturday’s SEC Championship game in Atlanta.
Meanwhile Steinmetz Sunday was believed to be interviewing Derrick Gragg, the University of Tulsa Athletic Director and former (2000-2006) Arkansas senior associate athletic director for the job that has current Senior Associate Athletic Director Cromer Peoples serving on an interim basis since the Nov. 15 firing of Athletic Director Jeff Long.
Regardless on the football coaching and athletic director fronts of what transpired later Sunday after this column was written or transpires this week, Anderson spent Sunday in a stern review of his Razorbacks after the Houston Cougars embarrassed them, 91-65 last Saturday night in Houston.
The Razorbacks, now 5-2 while Houston improved to 6-1, had been feeling good, possibly too good, about themselves after playing three big-name games in four days at the Nov. 23-26 Phil Knight Invitational Tournament in Portland, Ore.
Arkansas opened in Portland outscoring the talented Oklahoma Sooners, 92-83. Though fading exhausted and scoreless in the final 3:30, the next afternoon they played a strong 26:30 before losing 87-68 to the reigning national champion North Carolina Tar Heels. They responded by annihilating, 102-67 a good UConn Huskies that opened the tournament defeating the home state favorite Oregon Ducks.
Arkansas had beaten much of this same Cougars cast, 84-72 in last season’s nonconference game at Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
So despite Anderson’s warning, that teams coached by Kelvin Sampson, Houston’s coach and formerly coach of Washington State, Oklahoma and Indiana, are “known for their defensive tenaciousness, rebounding and physicality,” the Hogs appeared blindsided when Houston hit them with a game-opening 11-0 run based on defensive tenaciousness, rebounding and physicality.
“ I think they got little pat on the back,” Anderson said of the Hogs post Portland demeanor. “And I think they left it in Fayetteville. But we’ll find it and learn from it. That’s a hard lesson to learn sometimes when teams really come after you. Our guys have got to understand that and match that energy level the other team is playing with.”
The Razorbacks learned firsthand what they did to UConn can be done to them. They obviously didn’t account for the Cougars inspired to avenge last year’s loss. Houston forward Devin Davis, injured and only playing three minutes last year at Walton, annihilated Arkansas in Houston with a 28 points/10 rebounds double-double.
“Personally, it was a payback game because I missed a lot of games from that injury," Davis said. “Tonight our team played crazy good.”
“The Cougars enforced their will on us,” Anderson said. “We just have to get back to the drawing board and get back to doing the the things that have had us playing pretty decent basketball and that’s been our defense. But tonight they beat us in all facets. They just had much more energy than we did.”
The hand in hand defensive and offensive effectiveness the Hogs displayed in Portland most poorly contrasted at Houston, Anderson said, in the assists drop-off to seven after 14, 10 and 16 assists vs. Oklahoma, North Carolina and Connecticut.
“The telltale of our team is when we had seven assists and shot 55 times,” Anderson said. “That tells you we didn’t have the ball movement and the people movement.”
Coach Larry Eustachy, bringing his 4-4 Colorado State Rams of the Mountain West Tuesday night to Walton and Saturday visiting the University of Oregon, after Saturday thumping Pac 12 Conference instate archival Colorado, expects the Hogs to move rapidly at Walton.
““I feel like General Custer going into the last stand next week,” Eustachy said. “We won a very important game but we still have our issues.”