Arkansas Hopes Chaos Puts UNC On Its Heels

With a berth in the Sweet 16 in Los Angeles on the line, fifth-seeded and No. 21 Arkansas (27-8) hopes to bring chaos to its battle with turnover-prone No. 19 and fourth-seeded North Carolina (25-11) Saturday night at 7:40 p.m. CST in Jacksonville, Fla.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The fact that Harvard forced North Carolina into 17 turnovers on Thursday night has Arkansas acting like sharks seeing blood.

After all, that’s a identity that has been tied to the Razorback program and is likely to be a big part of Saturday’s NCAA Tournament game between Arkansas (27-8) and North Carolina (25-11) that will tip around 7:40 CST.

The winner will advance to the Sweet 16 in Los Angeles.

“We’re not Harvard,” Razorback junior guard Michael Qualls said. “They probably just had a hell of a game, but it is our strong point to try and make you turn the ball over.

“We’ve seen that,” Qualls added. “We are going to watch film on it later. Just try to play the way we play. We are going to try and get the ball out of (North Carolina point guard) Marcus Paige’s hands because he can do some damage. He’s a dynamite player.

“We want to speed them up, let Bob(by Portis) get some more isolation and they want have the net share defense that Wofford had,” Qualls continued.

Portis, who had 15 points and 13 rebounds in Thursday night’s 56-53 win over Wofford, is looking forward to playing the Tar Heels more than the Terriers.

“I feel like with us playing UNC, it will benefit us because Wofford had four or five guards in at one time,” Portis said. “I think that kind of hurt us because they had four or five ball handlers in.”

Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson sure doesn't want a slower tempo game.

“One of the things that we do thrive on is trying to apply pressure to teams,” Anderson said. “We cannot sit and play a half court game with this North Carolina team.

“We’ve got to hopefully cause some chaos with our defense and hopefully we can get some turnovers,” Anderson said. “But more importantly, I think we’ve got to defense and rebound the basketball.”

North Carolina head coach Roy Williams knows the challenge that awaits the Tar Heels.

“I love the way they play,” Williams said. “We’ve got to turn our motor up higher than it has been all year long. We’ve got to turn up our intensity higher than it has been all year long.”

Harvard had a 27-6 edge on points off turnovers against North Carolina, who lost six of its last 10 regular season games, but have won four of five in the postseason.

“Well, there’s no question that if we turn it over at the same rate we did last night, we won’t have anybody left at the end of the game, because we are going to fight somebody and that usually means our players,” Williams said. “If we turn it over 17 times in what I think I was a 60-something possession game - and it’s going to be more than 60 possessions tomorrow so we understand that,” Williams added.

“I would say that 50 percent of our (Friday) practice discussion out there on the court was not turning the ball over,” Williams continued. “…They’re just silly turnovers. We’ve got to stay away from silly turnovers.”

It’s clear that Williams’ message has resonated with his players, including 6-9, 228-pound junior forward Brice Johnson.

“Ten (turnovers) might send you home tomorrow,” Johnson said. “We just gotta do better. We can’t turn it over at crucial times.”

Arkansas is also hoping that it can get a big game from Portis, the SEC Player of the Year who has not played up to his normal level the past three games.

“He’s been playing at such an unbelievable clip and has been a double-double machine night in and night out, defensively just being active, blocking shots, doing the little things for us,” Anderson said.

“He may have hit that wall a little bit,” Anderson added. “He’s been playing a lot of minutes. Hopefully he’ll have some recovery time where he can come out and put on a good performance.

“One thing about Bobby, it is not going to because lack of effort and I think we’ll see it on display tomorrow,” Anderson continued. “When you are playing against a North Carolina, that tends to give you a little extra energy.

“We know Bobby is capable of and he’s the bell cow that we are going to go to,” Anderson said. “But it’s good to see other people pick it up when he is not playing well.”

Williams has long watched the Arkansas Wings AAU program from back when he was recruiting Little Rock’s Richard Scott and has watched Portis for five years now.

“I’ve seen Bobby a lot,” Williams said. “I saw Bobby a lot back in high school, whether it was at the (Nike) Peach Jam or some other national AAU competition.

“Arkansas has one of the best AAU teams that is really an AAU team,” Williams added. “…The Arkansas Wings is one of the best organizations you have in AAU.

“…He’s a big-time player and he’s a very versatile big guy,” Williams continued. “He doesn’t mind catching the ball 15 feet out and driving to the basket. He doesn’t mind catching it out there and making a pass to a guy cutting inside. He can get it close to the rim.

“…He can defend his position,” Williams said. “He’s one of the better players we will play all year long.”

Portis acknowledged that he is hearing some angst from the Arkansas fans.

“I feel like people expect me to go out there and get 30 points and 20 rebounds every game and that’s just not realistic,” Portis said. “With the defenses, how I am being played, there’s always a man on me and a man in the paint so people who know basketball know that I can’t force the issue on offense.

“I can’t force it to just get stats or anything,” Portis added. “It’s not about that. Primarily it is about winning. If our team won and did what I did, then I’m satisfied with that.”

Portis did get a good night’s sleep on Thursday night for the first time in awhile.

“Last night I got a good seven, eight hours of sleep,” Portis said. “That’s more than like what I normally get, just because I don’t sleep like four of five hours in a normal day just because I am so anxious to play.

“So I feel like I’m more well-rested and today I got some treatment with (Arkansas trainer) Dave (England) so I think that kind of helped me out, too," Portis said.

Qualls, who had a team-high 20 points Thursday on 8-of-9 shooting from the field, on the other hand has been playing great.

“Right now we are starting to see his toughness, see his athletic ability, we’re seeing his energy be contagious to our basketball team,” Anderson said.

North Carolina starts a big line up that includes Johnson (6-9, 228), 6-9, 270-pound Kennedy Meeks, 6-8 small forward Justin Jackson, 6-6 junior guard J.P Tokoto and the 6-1 Paige.

Williams didn’t think North Carolina pay the proper respect due Harvard.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever gotten my club’s full attention,” Williams said. “You’ve got to know them. They are a bunch of goofballs.”

He doesn't think that will be an issue against Arkansas.

“I’ve seen Arkansas play,” Williams said. “They are really scary. They really are…We had a pretty doggone good attention span this morning in practice.”

Williams compared Arkansas and it’s pressure to Louisville.

“We played Louisville at Louisville and in the last 10 minutes of regulation and in overtime, their frenetic pace and the aggressiveness really hurt us so we have got to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Williams said.

Anderson is sure his team will be focused and ready to play as well in a match-up CBS scheduled for prime time.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to play against an outstanding program,” Anderson said. “And we’ve got some tradition at Arkansas as well. And we’ve got. It’s going to be Arkansas versus North Carolina to vie for a Sweet 16 berth.”

North Carolina head coach Roy Williams

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