Depth Didn't Provide Lift for Hogs

The usual strength for Arkansas didn't pan out against Ole Miss in a home-court loss Saturday. Will it against Alabama on Thursday?

Arkansas basketball coach Mike Anderson still likes his team, but he promises fundamental work on defense after losing two SEC games last week, including a 96-82 home court loss Saturday night to Ole Miss.

The Rebels hit for a sizzling 74.1 percent from the field and shot at well over 60 percent for most of the game while shredding the Arkansas defense. The Hogs were never closer than seven points in the second half.

Anderson said the fundamentals of defense will be the focus as the Razorbacks try to right the ship before a Thursday night date with Alabama at Bud Walton Arena. Both Arkansas and Alabama lost two straight SEC games last week. The Crimson Tide lost a 70-48 home court decision to No. 1 Kentucky on Saturday.

Depth has been a strength for the Hogs most of the season, but it was the area where the game slipped away against Ole Miss. Can the Hogs turn that around against Alabama, another team with depth as a strength? Game time Thursday is 6 p.m., with TV scheduled for ESPN2.

"Normally when guys come in they really lift us up," Anderson said on Monday's SEC teleconference. "The (Ole Miss) game they didn't.

"Ole Miss' bench outplayed ours. That had a factor in this game. Starting out you always want to get off to a good start. We had a great atmosphere, a great crowd. And the guys who started out, they didn't start out particularly well because again, Ole Miss was scoring right at the basket.

"So I think they have got to start us off in a good fashion and let those guys off the bench follow up. But our bench has been really good and that was a key (against Ole Miss) that they didn't play particularly well."

That will be the key against Alabama.

"I think it will be a heck of a ball game because they have got some quality depth," Anderson said. "They have got some guys who have been there.

"But I still like our depth. I like our team. I like our depth. We just have to get some things technically corrected, especially on the defensive end and continue to try and push the tempo.

"It's a big matchup between two teams that are 2-2 in conference play. So we have got to - coming off a tough loss at home against Ole Miss - in the past we have defended the home court really well but we didn't play particularly well and obviously in this league if you don't show up to play, home or away, that's the end result. So we are looking for the opportunity to play against an Alabama team that is playing well."

Anderson promises extra practice on defense before the Tide comes to town, with the coach focusing on some technical issues.

It's going to be getting back to the fundamentals of playing defense," Anderson said. "That's got to be what we really put our hats on and try to make it difficult for people to score. It's been too easy at the rim and so our defense has got to build that wall up and make people take tough shots and rebound the basketball. I think those are things that are fixable and we will get it fixed with some extra practices this week."

On the technical side, Anderson said penetration must stop and that means more help on the ball.

“I always say we guard a man-and-a-half," Anderson said. "And our defense, just keeping penetration stopped is key. Rotation has been slow. Just kind of been slow. Even in the games we’ve won. I’ve always kind of felt like our defense hasn’t been the way it was early in the year.

"So we’ve got to get back to the fundamentals of guarding people and making people take difficult shots. Keeping them out of the lane. Keeping them off the boards. I think that’s where pride has got to come in. I think it’s got to be a collective effort. Not missing assignments. To me, that’s the fundamental things you’ve got to do and that’s where pride has got to kick in as well.”

Anderson was asked if it would be easier to get the team's attention after back-to-back losses.

"Well, we’re going to do that anyway," he said. "Win or lose, we’re going to do that. I think it’s no question about it. It puts a premium on it. Our defense is what we’re going to hang our hats on and obviously we’ve got to get better at it.”

Anderson thought experience would help, but so far it's not clicked in on defense.

“Well, I just think we have more guys that are familiar with what we’re doing," he said. "But being familiar and going out and doing it are two different things.

"So that, to me, is a key right now. It is getting them to go out and execute how we were playing earlier in the year. We had nice role guys coming off the bench and I think they were trusting one another. And now that trust on defense hasn’t occurred.

"That’s the thing that’s kind of baffling to me is trusting defensively and offensively and getting to the point where we can get the ball up and down the floor. We have a lot of versatile parts, but if those parts aren’t performing it’s not going to mean anything. It’s potential. We have the players, but now they have to go out and they have to execute the game plan each and every night. We started off 2-0, we turned around and went 0-2. So now it’s time to turn that tide again.”

Alabama coach Anthony Grant followed Anderson on the SEC teleconference. He was not pleased with the way his team played last week, following a 56-38 victory at Tennessee that had the Tide rolling at 2-0. Alabama lost a 68-66 decision at South Carolina to start the week.

"We have to be able to rebound better," Grant said. "We have to play more connected. We'd been pretty good on defense (before last week). We have to emphasize some habits that allow us to be more successful."

Interestingly, Grant focused on the Arkansas defense as the challenge for his team Thursday night.

"Mike has an excellent team," Grant said. "They are coming off a difficult game. But the early season contests have showed Bobby Portis to be a candidate for player of the year. They also have a good player in Michael Qualls. They have a lot of other pieces there. I think they've got great depth. Obviously, the style of play, to prepare for that going into their building will be a great challenge for us. But I know our guys are looking forward to getting back on the court. We've dropped a couple here in a row ourselves, so getting re-focused and understanding what allows us to have the best chance to go out and be successful in that game will be important.

"Four games in, its really tough to get a measure. I think any coach will tell you that you're really concerned about Arkansas' defense. Forget what the numbers say. We know what they're capable of, the type of havoc they can create with the way they play. We're going to try to do the best job we can to go in there and have success."

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