In their last non-conference game of the regular season, the Razorbacks absolutely mauled a band of Wolverines.
Alandise Harris had a season-high 17 points, Bobby Portis had 12 points and 9 rebounds, Michael Qualls 11 points and 9 rebounds and sophomore Moses Kingsley added 10 points in his first career start as Arkansas rolled all over Utah Valley 79-46 Saturday afternoon at Bud Walton Arena.
Rashad Madden chipped in 8 points and 5 assists for the Razorbacks, who open SEC play Tuesday night at Georgia at 6 p.m.
"We had some days to work on our defense since the Northwestern State game (a 100-92 win last Sunday) and I saw the sign of us bringing some of those things we did in practice to game," Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said. "We took Utah Valley out of whatever they wanted to do,” Anderson added. “That’s a credit to our defense.”
It was the fifth straight win for Arkansas (11-2), whose last loss was at Clemson - a game that doubles as its last road game.
"It's a good stamp to end the preseason," Qualls said. "I feel like we went out exciting. I feel like the defense was really stifling today. It was tough for them to do really anything. I feel like everybody got their rotations right, so a lot of good signs.
"Like I said in previous games, we're just trying to build every game," Qualls added. " I feel like we're building as a team, especially with the productivity. The minutes were more spaced out and the bench produced... Alandise came in and had a great game. I think we're ready to go in conference."
The Razorbacks led 27-21 before reeling off 21-2 run that went through halftime to effectively put the game away from head coach Dick Hunsaker's Wolverines, who won the WAC regular season title last year and were in the NIT.
Utah Valley (5-9) - who was without ill leading scorer and rebounder Mitch Bruneel (12.3, 6.2) - ended the day shooting just 29.3 percent (17-of-58) from the field, 8-of-27 from the 3-point line and 4-8 from the free throw line while committing 15 turnovers and having six of their shots blocked.
"Coach Anderson was very kind and kind of substituted freely throughout the game. I saw lots and lots of tape on them," Hunsaker said. "They have a number of various combinations they probably haven't seen through the course of the year and they are very good to us as far as not trying to run the score or play a meaningless type of basketball against us.
"Frankly they are just too big and too athletic and too many of them for us to get competitive against," Hunsaker added. " I thought we tried and did the best we could and I wish them the best of the luck in their conference season."
Anderson noted that his defense did just want he wanted it to.
“Our defense really took Utah Valley out of whatever they wanted to do,” Anderson said. “They came in with a mindset that they wanted to take care of the basketball, but our defense really sped them up. That is probably the fastest you are going to see them play.
“I also thought the wear and the tear and the fatigue was a factor going to stretch,” Anderson added. “We got a chance to play our man-to-man, we got a chance to play our zone, we got a chance to play a lot of different combinations.”
It was a far cry from three years ago when Utah Valley led Arkansas with four minutes to go, but the Razorbacks rallied for a 67-59 win at home.
“We have come along way,” Anderson said. “We have got better players and that’s the bottom line. More guys that fit what we want to do.”
Hunsaker agreed with that sentiment.
"This team has a lot more offensive potential, a lot more firepower on the court," Hunsaker said. I think they have a little bit more versatility and looks they can give on the defensive end as well.
Harris, whose career high of 25 points came when he was playing at Houston, was 5-of-7 from the field, 1-of-3 from 3-point range, 6-of-8 from the free throw line and also grabbed five rebounds, blocked a shot and had a steal in just 15 minutes of playing time.
"I felt good about it," Harris said. "It was about time I got out there and hit some shots and played a good game."
Anderson also liked what he saw from Harris, who came into the game averaging 7.1 points and 3.4 rebounds.
"I thought Alandise Harris probably played one of his better games this year,” Anderson said. “It just seemed like he played with the physicality that we have got to have.”
Arkansas was 27-of-67 from the field, 4-of-21 from 3-point range and 21-of-25 from 3-point range.
“We didn’t shoot it well,” Anderson said. “We had open looks, but balls just rimmed in and out. It goes back to the old saying that there are nights that you don’t shoot it well - what…is going to carry you? I thought our defense carried us today.”
Arkansas started the sophomore duo of 6-11 Portis and 6-10 Kingsley together for the first time in their careers.
"I just wanted to see what they looked like starting off,” Anderson said. “They have been in games together and I wanted to see what it looked like starting off. I saw what I needed to see.
“They do play together and practice a lot,” Anderson added. “They did some good things, did some not so good things. But they got some experience - game-time experience- and that’s valuable.”
It was Kingsley's first career start and he was told about it right before the tip.
"He told me before the game I was starting," Kingsley said. "I was like OK. I wasn't surprised. I just said, yeah, I'm going to go out there and play."
Anderson noted that he thought Kingsley was both excited and nervous.
“I thought he was excited and nervous and you could tell that,” Anderson said. “I thought the guys out there kind of helped him along the way. I thought Bobby, I thought Ky (Madden) made it a little easier for him.”
The day's biggest highlight came during the 21-2 run with Jacorey Williams getting a steal on the baseline and then thundering in for a left-handed slam.
“Manuale Watkins continues to give us great minutes off the bench and Jacorey - I thought that dunk that he got really energized the whole building,” Anderson said. “It was a big key in the game and it felt like the whole gym woke up.”
Arkansas will now try to get conference action off on a good note at Georgia in a game that will be televised by ESPN.
“Anytime you get a win, that’s always the most important thing,” Anderson said. “I saw defense - and if you are going to be able to to contend in the SEC then you have got to be a good defensive team. You have to be able to dominate the glass when you get a chance to. Hopefully we are a much better rebounding."
Arkansas 79, Utah Valley 46
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