State of the Hogs: Assists

If there is one thing that jumps out at me on a basketball stat sheet, it's assists. If I see a team with 15 to 20 assists for a game, I figure it's a decent offensive team with a "share the wealth" mentality.

Often, it's the point guard with a pile of assists since he has the ball more than anyone else at the start of a possession. But assists shouldn't be confined to the floor general. They can and should be spread throughout the lineup.

Some should come from the post players. Certainly, the off guard and the forwards should get a few assists from time to time.

The number that jumped off the stat sheet Wednesday night at Ole Miss: five Arkansas assists. Three came from Dontell Jefferson, the Hogs' struggling senior point guard. That leaves two for the rest of the team. No wonder the Hogs lost another road game.

That's a horrible number for a half, much less a full game. Five assists for 40 minutes of basketball. Horrible.

It tells me that this team doesn't share the ball, doesn't get it to the big men inside.

That's where I thought Arkansas held a huge advantage against Ole Miss. The Hogs wore out the Rebels in the paint the last time they played in an Arkansas runaway victory in Bud Walton.

Ole Miss turned that around this time. Dwayne Curtis had 19 points and 13 rebounds for the Rebs. He's a decent player, but he isn't better than the Hogs' inside group of Steven Hill, Darian Townes and Charles Thomas. Those three combined to get only eight shot attempts against the Rebels.

"Our plan was to go inside," said UA coach Stan Heath. "We talked about it before the game. We talked about it every timeout. We harped on it. Yet we didn't get it done. I could show you our notes from the game, what we wanted to do. It was take it inside."

That's why the Hogs will likely turn more and more to true freshman Sean McCurdy at the point guard, sitting Jefferson.

"We are probably leaning that direction," Heath said. "We've got to limit our turnovers at crucial times. We've got to get the ball inside. We've got to shake this up. I'm not happy with what we are getting at point guard."

Give Ole Miss credit. Rod Barnes' club put the Hogs in a panic mode with pressure defense. They pushed the Hogs' guards away from the basket and the way the Hogs tried to solve that played right into the Rebels' hands.

"Our guys tried to break their pressure by driving to the bucket," Heath said. "They got us playing too fast. They gave us really aggressive pressure and our response was to drive it. We didn't show any patience. They made us play faster and our reaction was not good."

I can tell you that it's something that has plagued the Hogs before Wednesday night. Heath knows it's a problem. I recall his shouts at Jefferson during a recent practice when he turned his back on his teammates when confronted by pressure during a halfcourt set.

"Turn your back on the defense, you are going to get it stripped," Heath yelled.

That was right after Ronnie Brewer, playing off the ball on the other team, came from behind Jefferson to pick his pocket for a breakaway dunk.

The Hogs must get the ball to their bigs against Florida. If they want to see how to do it, study the Florida scouting report. The Gators rotate four talented inside players and get the ball to all of them. They get easy shots for their best two, centers Al Horford and Joakim Noah.

"Horford and Noah really compliment each other well," Heath said. "They are good with their high-low action on the post and they are tough to defend with their duck-in moves. They get some easy baskets by running the floor. They play very well together and help each other get some easy baskets. They don't take difficult shots."

That would be nice if the Hogs could do some of that with Townes, Hill and Thomas. To do it, they are going to have to get better play on the perimeter, especially at point guard.

I hate to say it, but I'm not holding my breath. I didn't hang around practice Thursday, instead bolting to Ft. Smith where I planned to watch future Razorback star Sonny Weems play for UA-Ft. Smith's Lions. I hear he'll pass the ball. I hear he gets it to the post. I hope that's what I see. It would be a nice change.

I'll be watching on Saturday to see who gets the most assists, Florida or Arkansas. I'll be watching to see which team uses its bigs the best.

I've always thought the team which gets the easiest shots usually shoots the best and usually wins. Easy shots usually can be traced to a nice assist.

I noticed a few games back that someone in the front row of the upper deck draped big red 3s on the facade every time the Hogs nailed a 3-point basket. I'd like someone to bring a bunch of big red As and flip one over for every nice assist. Maybe we just aren't sending the right message to these Hogs after every basket.

When those assists start piling up, there will be a few more Ws.

CLAY HENRY IS THE PUBLISHER OF HAWGS ILLUSTRATED, A STEPHENS MEDIA GROUP PUBLICATION. HIS COLUMN APPEARS EACH FRIDAY. E-MAIL: CLAY@NWAONLINE.NET

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