Coach Mike Anderson said "a light bulb" went off in his head just a few minutes before tipoff time that put Arkansas senior Kikko Haydar in the starting lineup for the first time in 67 games Tuesday night against Southeastern Louisiana.
Haydar was on high beam with three 3-point shots and an assist for a Bobby Portis dunk in the first four minutes as the Razorbacks exploded for an 111-65 victory before 7,754 at Bud Walton Arena.
In the first game after a 1-2 Hawaii trip, Anderson inserted Haydar into a starting lineup with Rashad Madden, Alandise Harris, Fred Gulley and Portis. That group received great support off the bench from Cotey Clarke and Michael Qualls as all 14 Razorbacks scored.
The Hogs (5-2) shot 63 percent in a 52-32 first half, then followed with 61.8 shooting in a 59-33 second half that featured a 35-7 run coming out of the halftime locker room. Southeastern Louisiana's Lions shot just 34.4 percent and it was in the 25 percent range until a burst in the final five minutes. The largest UA lead was 57 at the 5:14 mark.
Portis and Qualls led the Hogs with 16 points. Clarke added 15 points. Madden scored 10. Haydar and Gulley both scored 9 points.
Anderson was looking for energy with the change in lineups. Maybe he knew long before game time that Haydar was starting because he tried to slow the senior guard during a shooting drill two hours before the game.
"I usually come to the gym at 6 o'clock to tape the pre-game show, but I got here at 5:30 tonight and Kikko was out there by himself coming off screens in some drills," Anderson said. "I told him to slow down a little."
Haydar said the team doesn't find out the starting set until they come back in from their second trip out just about five minutes before the tipoff.
"You see on the board what the matchups are," Haydar said. "That's when I knew. It was a little weird, a little different. Coach says to be ready for your opportunity. So I was excited."
Haydar's hot start helped the Hogs make 7 of their first 10 threes, before cooling to 9 of 18 for 50 percent. He was 3 of 5 on threes.
Qualls and Clarke were outstanding, too, coming off the bench to over match the Lions. Qualls made 5 of 6 from the field, 2 of 2 on 3-pointers and 4 of 4 from the line. Clarke was 2 of 4 from the field, 10 of 11 from the line.
"I did tell Kikko to slow down because there was a chance he was going to be in the starting lineup," Anderson said. "His energy is contagious. He's like a gnat out there. I love it. He's like I was as a player."
Southeastern coach Jim Yarbrough said Haydar was not a surprise.
"He's a terrific 3-point shooter," he said. "We knew we couldn't leave him open, but he did a great job of relocating. He did that really well. I think Mike went with energy guys (in the starting lineup) and he's one of those."
Anderson said the great shooting was part of the story of the night, but the Arkansas defense was just as important. The Hogs forced 24 turnovers.
"We shot it well, but it was triggered by the defense," Anderson said. "Our defense was active. They average just eight turnovers. They value the basketball. Our guys were in tune with each other. They fixed things on defense. We defended the rim, we blocked some and we altered some shots.
"We had fun. It was a fun night with a lot of guys getting into the action, including some guys who don't get a chance to play."
Anderson said Portis, the 6-10 freshman, built on his strong second and third games in Hawaii that followed a tough outing against California.
"Hawaii made him a better player," Anderson said. "He went against bigger and stronger players. He had to adjust to become an impact player."
The Cal game might have been a wakeup call. There was a meeting with Anderson afterwards, sparked by a phone call from Portis.
"After the game I was on the beach by myself," Portis said. "I called Coach (Anderson) to ask if we could talk. I asked him what I was doing wrong to get only 5 points and 1 rebound. He said, 'Go have fun. Be an impact player.' I stopped pressing. I wasn't letting the game come to me."
Haydar said he also had a talk with the head coach after not taking a shot in the loss to Gonzaga to end the Hawaii trip.
"Coach pulled me into his office and told me I needed to shoot the ball," Haydar said. "Gonzaga played a zone the whole game and I didn't take a shot."
Southeastern (3-4) has lost three times to SEC foes. Missouri put an 89-53 beating on the Lions. LSU whipped them, 89-66. How do the Hogs compare?
"LSU is immensely big, but (Arkansas) doesn't let you run anything," Yarbrough said. "They mix it up defensively. They never let you control tempo. They started a different lineup then they came back with Qualls and Clarke. That's a big advantage."
The Arkansas shooting caught Yarbrough off guard.
"I don't think I've seen a team make that many shots," Yarbrough said. "I didn't see them make many shots against Gonzaga's zone, but that was in Hawaii. This was in their own gym.
"We've seen a steady diet of SEC teams, Missouri and LSU and now Mike's team. Mike's guys fit his style now.
"I knew we were in for a difficult task. Sometimes you get a feel and you can slow a team down. We did that here a couple of years back. But this year, Mike's team is faster. They are starting to look like Mike's teams. This personnel fits him and that's so important for any coach."
Michael Qualls dunnks as teammates Moses Kingsley and Jacorey Williams and SELA's Onochie Ochie look on.
Arkansas 111, SELA 65
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