One immensely talented and gritty guard could cancel out everything else the Razorbacks do today. When they meet South Carolina at 2:15 p.m. in their Southeastern Conference Tournament first-round game, the Hogs undoubtedly will pay primary attention to Tre Kelley.
The first-team all-SEC guard enters today's contest with a 19.1 scoring average and a heart the size of the Georgia Dome.
Even though Kelley said his bum left knee is only about "80 to 90 percent," Arkansas coach Stan Heath knows not to underestimate the 6-foot senior.
"He can control a game, and that's scary," Heath said. "Literally, he can control the tempo of a game. He has an enormous impact on who wins and who loses. He's able to score. He's able to make the guys around him better. And he shows tremendous leadership out there on the court."
That presence was on full display on Jan. 24, when Kelley seemingly willed the Gamecocks to a six-point victory over the Razorbacks.
Then, his knee bothered him more much than it has lately. He struggled to sprint, and he could barely defend. Yet, Kelley finished with a game-high 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting.
"He was pretty amazing that night," Arkansas point guard Gary Ervin said. "Honestly, the way he played that night really impressed me. Just the fact that he played through the pain and played that well. We can't let him do that same thing to us this time."
More importantly, he encouraged teammates and set up scoring opportunities throughout that first meeting.
Heath said the Razorbacks could survive a Kelley explosion if they could limit his sidekicks. They couldn't do that on Jan. 24. Three other South Carolina players scored in double figures in the Colonial Center.
"We need to run different guys at him and disrupt him," Heath said.
Ervin is one of those guys. Beverley is another. As is Sonny Weems, Stefan Welsh and possibly Sean McCurdy.
On the other end of the floor, Arkansas will try to exploit Kelley's main weakness. His sore knee has hindered Kelley's ability to defend, and Arkansas' guards likely will attempt to blow past him as often as possible.
"I have to be smarter out there," Kelley said. "It's harder for me to slide and move laterally."
Regardless of the outcome, South Carolina coach Dave Odom said Kelley's impact on his program would be immeasurable.
"The amazing thing about Tre's situation is he plays every day, every possession, like it's his last," Odom said. "The reward for that is the teaching that's going on with the younger kids. There's much more to Tre than personal gain."
Stopping Kelley Razorbacks' Main Priority
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