Arkansas Must Get Act Together Quickly

Arkansas head basketball coach Mike Anderson "has been killing us" in practice this week according to Razorback forward Bobby Portis, whose 6-2 team will try and bounced back from a pair of road losses last week with a Saturday 1 p.m. home date against Dayton (7-1), who was in the NCAA Tournament's Sweet Sixteen last season.

Arkansas head basketball coach Mike Anderson knows that last week’s two losses were unacceptable to his players, his coaching staff, to the Razorback fans and especially to himself.

Arkansas - who lost 95-77 at No. 20 Iowa State and 68-65 at Clemson in overtime after a complete meltdown in the final minute - have spent this week trying to get things right.

“Pretty tough week in practice for us,” Razorback sophomore forward Bobby Portis said Thursday. “Coach has been killing us really harping on defense this week.  Me, personally, I can't wait until Saturday to play.  It's been a long wait from Sunday.”

Arkansas (6-2) will host Dayton (7-1) - a team that made the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight last season and is riding a five-game winning streak - on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Bud Walton Arena.

The game will be televised by ESPN2 with Bob Wischusen and former Indiana head coach Bobby Knight calling the action.

The Flyers are 26-9 in the last eight years against Power 5 Conference teams, have beaten nine of the last 11 SEC teams they have played and are 43-9 in the month of December since the 2007-2008 season.

"Sometimes you get a pat on the back and it sets you back," Anderson said. "I thought our guys were feeling that. Not knowing with the understanding that you've got to show up and play. And so this has been a week where we've really had a week to prepare our team to get better. So I'm anxious to see our approach Saturday against an outstanding Dayton team."

The Razorbacks had risen to No. 18 in the Associated Press poll - the program’s first time in the rankings in seven years - but dropped out after the losses.

Anderson noted his team - which won its first road game this season at SMU had won four of its last six on another team’s court going into last week’s contests - has to put last week behind it.

“I thought when the rankings start and you hear about this here and it hasn’t been done in so many years, that’s good and dandy, but it’s … to me, the race is not a sprint, it’s a race, it’s a marathon,” Anderson said. “So we’re right, eight games into our season. there’s a lot of basketball to be played and not only that, this team where it is right now, it won’t be the same in January and hopefully even in February. We’re going to be a team that’s hopefully clicking on a lot more cylinders."

Anderson’s message to his team this week has been clear.

“You got exposed with the games that you had and so now it’s time for us to really get back and go to work and become that team we want to become,” Anderson said. “We want to be a team that says, you know what, we hang our hats on our defense. Evidently we didn’t because Iowa state scored 95 points.

“Against Clemson, we’re a team that, can you imagine in overtime we score 65 points?” Anderson noted. “ So obviously there’s some things that we’ve got to correct. So this gives us a week to correct some of those things and even as we go into next week to continue to work and get better. We’re less than a month away from conference play so it’s time for us to polish it up and get our act together.”

Anderson said his team suffered a complete meltdown against Clemson with the Razorbacks leading 57-51 with 1:17 left.

Junior Anthlon Bell had a turnover and senior Rashad Madden two miscues as Arkansas figuratively snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

“It's very odd,” Anderson said. “ That's why I say it was kind of meltdown, where we didn't finish. You've got guys out there that you expect to really show the leadership and take care of the basketball.

“I really felt like it was hard for them to matchup with Bobby, and our mindset was, hey, let's see if we can get the ball into Bobby,” Anderson added. “And we just didn't do a good job of it. Whether we panicked, I don't know. But it was pretty disheartening, because we've worked extremely hard, and all we've talked about is being able to finish.

“And the finishing part is, you get the ball, you secure it, make them foul you,” Anderson continued. “You've got a two-possession game. Make them foul you. I thought we just made some bad decisions. But we'll learn from it. We'll learn from it.”

Former Arkansas head coach Nolan Richardson noted earlier this week during an interview on Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly that Portis is a polite and well-mannered young man, but has to basically overcome that and demand the ball in crunch time.

Anderson echoed that sentiment during his Thursday press conference.

“I think in crunch time I think he does,” Anderson said. “And that’s something that we’ve talked about. He’s got to be a guy that, you know, when he gets in that huddle say, ‘hey, ya’ll get me the ball.’ He’s got to say it kind of emphatically. It ain’t got to be a crazy cry, but he’s got to say it. Especially when it’s going down to crunch time. it’s tougher for some guys to match up with him.”

Anderson reminded the media that Portis - averaging 15.5 points and 6.5 rebounds - is still a young player.

“You think about it, Bobby’s 19 years old,” Anderson said. “He’s 19 years old. The development of him, it’s been pretty rapid. But you’ve got to coach him to do that. He’s got to do that. I think he’s one of those guys that’s coachable. He’ll listen and eventually he’ll do it. but no question about it, as things go through him a lot of good things will take place for us.”

Portis said he realizes that has to be part of his development to become a complete player.

“I have to for sure because I demand a lot of help on my team - well, not my team, but from the other teams they like to double down on me,” Portis said. “So I feel like if I get down low and catch the ball down low they will double me and somebody like Manny (Watkins) or Mike (Qualls) can take it to the hole and get easy baskets for our team. So I feel that is something that I will have to do for sure.

“It is something that I am not accustomed to, but I am up for the challenge,” Portis added.

Anderson noted that Madden has to step up to the challenge as well after a sub-par week left him getting criticized about his play - especially at the end of the Clemson game.

“He's got a little edge on him now, and that's what we've got play with,” Anderson said. “I think whether we play at home or on the road, we've got play with that edge.”

As Anderson noted after the game on Sunday, junior point guard Jabril Durham is likely to be on the floor at crunch time in the future.

“I think you've got another ball-hander out there that can handle the basketball and hopefully make decisions,” Anderson said. “ I think it also can lessen some of the load on Ky (Madden), because I think a lot of times we see the ball in his hands and obviously some times the decisions he makes aren't the right decisions.

“…Sometimes you try to do too much,” Anderson added. “I think that's to a fault for Ky. It's not like he's not trying. But I think he's got to be able to trust — and that's the biggest word for our guys is, we've got to trust each other. Whether it be on offense, or even more so on defense.”

It was not a week that Anderson wants to experience again, but he did say it was part of an effort to improve the non-conference slate with some tough road games - something the fans screamed for last season.

“I think there going to be some lessons learned from it and it's going to benefit us. I really, really do,” Anderson said. “That's why this schedule was put together, so we could find out a little bit more about ourselves.”


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