Utah Valley will bring its Wolverines into Bud Walton Arena on Saturday for a 2:05 p.m, game, but Arkansas believes it will have a rabid one of its own waiting.
That would Razorback junior Michael Qualls, who is coming in off scoring 21 of his career-high 28 point against Northwestern State i the second half.
“It is just progression,” Qualls said. “…I don’t try to look too much in it, don’t look to see how many I have after the game. I just try to go out and just play.
“A lot of times when I try to do too much focus, just trying to be a leader or somebody you can lean on on the team, I tend to overthink things,” Qualls added. “But when I just go out and play and emotions are into it, I am good.”
Qualls is averaging 15.8 points and 4.8 rebounds - second only to teammate Bobby Portis (17.2, 7.7) in both categories.
He’s shooting 48 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range (21-of-52) and 70 percent from the free throw line this season.
“He's done some good things for us,” Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said. “I think he's showing a little bit more to his game than just the athletic ability, just shooting.
“He can rebound when he wants to, and I'd like to see him get even better defensively,” Anderson said. “He can get a whole lot better defensively because he's so long, he's so wiry. I just want to see him continue to develop as a player.”
Qualls’ teammates say his intensity has been up in practice and his hunger apparent heading into the match-up between Arkansas (10-2) and Utah Valley (5-8) that will be televised by the SEC Network.
His five 20-point games this season are the second-highest number by a player in the SEC so far and he is currently seventh in the league in scoring.
“I think the thing with Mike is that he is really hungry,” sophomore Manuale Watkins said. “You are not going to meet a hungrier guy than Mike. He just wants it so bad. You mix that with the talent he has and the hard work and the work he puts in and the athleticism and you have got a tough player.
“I think that is his main thing - his drive, the fire in his eyes that he brings every day,” Watkins added. “In practice, Coach has to be like ‘calm down, it’s your teammates.’ Because he has that fire and that is something that you are born with. You can’t develop that. It is just something that he has always had and it shows.”
Watkins assessed the practice work of Qualls, who has scored 43 points in his last 46 second-half minutes over three games.
“It’s not that he hurts somebody, but he just gets fired up because doesn’t call a lot of fouls in practice and then we are tired already, we are running and everybody gets a little frustrated,” Watkins said.
“And then Michael goes in there and gets hit, but Coach Is just trying to make him better,” Watkins added. “It will happen a couple of time and Mike will be like ‘alright, that’s a foul.’ He wants a foul and he has to kind of calm himself down.
“You don’t want him to get bad because he is coming at you the next 10 times - fast and hard,” Watkins continued. “We try not to get him too mad in practice because more times than not his team will win.
“If you are on the other team you just try to keep him collected so we don’t have to come out of practice with an L,” Watkins said.
Anderson loves the emotion and mindset right now of Qualls, who has had seven 20-point games in his last 21 contests after having only one in his first 55 as a Razorback.
“That’s part of the growth,” Anderson said. “He's one of those emotionally-charged guys. I always have the mindset, you never let them see you sweat, and so my job as a coach is to make sure I put them under as much duress as I can in practice, to see how they respond. So that way it doesn't take place in a game. But I think he's doing a better job of channeling it in the right way.”
Junior forward Jacorey Williams also praised, who was one of the top college players invited to both the LeBron James and Kevin Durant camps this past summer.
“I think he has got a dog mentality,” Williams said. “Like they said, he is very hungry and it is hard to slow down somebody who is always hungry. It’s like he never gets full and he never gets tired of being successful when he is playing.
“Players like that, they are are to slow down,” Williams said. “You would rather have to tell somebody to calm down then to get it going.
“So that is good - somebody who is always hungry.”
Anthlon Bell sees a more well-rounded player this season in Qualls.
“He is playing big offensively and defensively,” Bell said. “He is hustling. He is doing things in the past that he was usually not doing. Especially being a leader on the court. When things break down, he will bring us together and say that we need to pick it up and lead by example.”
Qualls' rebound dunk last season handed Arkansas one of its two wins over Kentucky last season.
Hungry Qualls Set To Battle Wolverines
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