Arkansas didn't practice long, but it was as intense as I've seen. It was obvious that Nolan Richardson had done something to boost confidence and inspire the team.
I've watched many an Arkansas practice and I've never seen one better, as far as offensive movement, up-tempo and solid offensive teamwork. The guys were flying in their cuts, and were aggressive in the way they played.
Matt Jones stood out for the first time that I've watched. That's not to say he hasn't played well in other practices when I haven't been there, but he was superb today. He came on midway through the scrimmage with the white team (perhaps the second unit) in the second 10-minute segment. He hit five of his seven shots, and one of his misses he rebounded and put back in. He posted Berry Jordan on an inbounds play for the final bucket, shooting over Jordan with a nice turnaround jumper from about 5 feet.
That's not to say Jones dominated, because there were a lot of players that performed extremely well in the scrimmage. And, he was out there when most everyone was tired and he was fresh. But, it seems he's getting closer to being ready to contribute.
Jannero Pargo, Brandon Dean and Teddy Gipson were marvelous. And, I don't use those words that often. Those three were just fun to watch.
It was quite a show. I thought the Hogs were definitely in their up-up-and-away tempo, as Billy Donovan calls it when the Hogs are really pushing it. They were pushing the ball in every way possible, and that was after made shots and missed shots and of course turnovers. Nolan was loving it and pushing the players in an intense way, and also applauding their actions. He ran the court each time the teams switched ends, and was as in it as I've seen him. Again, he's like that a lot, but today was something special.
It was interesting in the way he conducted practice from several standpoints. The teams came to the floor briefly for stretching, then he took the Red team (or the starters) back in the dressing room for about 15 minutes. I don't know if it was a pep talk, chalk talk or what, but the results were breathtaking in the way they performed and their intensity. Then, after a 10-minute scrimmage, complete with fouls called (by Nolan) and free throws shot, he gave the Red team the floor for free throws and took the White team to the locker room for what I believe was a pep or chalk talk. When they returned, that group was energized and moving in great fashion, as if urged on to play at a higher level by Nolan. And, despite outstanding play by Pargo, the White team won the second 10-minute scrimmage by 41-35.
There were several bumps and knocks in the scrimmage. J. J. Sullinger got his left hand hit hard twice. T. J. Cleveland cut his lip, missing only one possession. Brandon Dean and Chuck Tatum collided high in the air going for a long outlet pass. But, no one wanted to leave the scrimmage, and they just kept fighting and clawing until the clock expired.
It was an amazing session, especially the day before a game set for 5 p.m. Saturday against Ole Miss. A stunned observer was TV analyst Barry Booker, in do prepare for his broadcast Saturday night on SEC TV.
Basketball Update: Jan. 18
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