Ugly wins frustrate fans but still much better than a loss

Photo: Thomas Campbell / Texas A&M Athletics

The Arkansas Razorbacks escaped Aggie Land on Tuesday with a 62-60 victory. I’m guessing many others were sweating out the game on their couch or in their favorite easy chair just like me.

It was one of those crazy games in which both teams seemed intent on losing from all the mistakes, miscues, and missed opportunities.

It was a grueling affair. Even when you’re team wins, it’s frustrating to see them struggle so much.

The Razorbacks made up a 10-point deficit in the first half, only to fall back behind the Aggies by a dozen points in the second half. The Hogs furiously clawed their way back into the game and even took a five-point lead late in the contest. With just a bit of execution the Razorbacks should have closed out the game relatively easily.

But nothing is easy for the Hogs.

Two turnovers and two missed free throws by the Hogs, and the team that leads the SEC in free-throw shooting, ended up sweating out a last-second shot by Texas A&M.

One could say that’s life on the road in the SEC, but that’s not really the case. Road teams are winning at a decent clip early this season.

The Aggies weren’t a great basketball team defending their home court. They’re a mediocre to poor team that’s struggling with inexperience and uncertain guard play.

If someone made a similar assessment of Arkansas’ performance, I don’t know if I could argue too much.

Well, maybe that’s unfair.

Arkansas’ not a poor basketball team and aspects of their guard play is very good, but mediocre does seem to fit the bill six games into the SEC season.

The Hogs are 3-3 in SEC play with an overall mark of 14-4. It is a bit odd that the Hogs have two road wins and just one home victory at this juncture of the season, but No. 19 Florida’s going to win a lot of SEC road games this season, despite the fact that No. 24 South Carolina upset the Gators 57-53 Wednesday night.

As for the home loss to Mississippi State, there’s no real explanation other than the Bulldogs outplayed the Hogs. And sure anytime a team loses, it’s fair to say the losing team was outcoached.

I won’t go as far to say the Razorbacks are lucky to be 3-3 in SEC play right now, but there is no doubt they were fortunate to win at College Station last Tuesday. One can only hope the Razorbacks learned their lesson by dodging that bullet, but who knows?

Every time I think this squad is about to make a move, there is a step back. Let’s hope we don’t see that this Saturday when the Razorbacks face the LSU Tigers (9-8, 1-5). The Hogs simply aren’t accomplished enough to continue play down to their opponents and expect to be as fortunate as they were last Tuesday at College Station.

Well, maybe they can against LSU. The Tigers aren’t as bad as Missouri, but LSU is on a four-game skid as they prep for their game with the Hogs, which is set to tipoff at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night.

While the Razorbacks had to struggle to hold on at Texas A&M, what gave them the victory was their defensive play late in the second half.

Forward Arlando Cook seemed to be the catalyst for that. He looked like the quickest player on the court for the Hogs, both with his hands and his feet. Though he’s slender, Cook attacked the glass for rebounds and even collected a few outside his area. He ended up leading Arkansas with 7 rebounds. When he and other Hogs began to front the Aggie big men, the game shifted in the Hogs’ favor.

Cook has issues with fouling too often, but the junior needs more minutes if he can continue to play with the energy and tenacity that he brought to the floor Thursday night. Along with those rebounds, he scored 9 points and made a steal, an assist and a block in 21 valuable minutes.

Manuale Watkins more than made up for two early turnovers. He worked well in tandem with Cook, giving the Hogs a bit more length in their match-up zone as well as man-to-man, but he also has the best long-distance shooting night of his career. He hit all three of his three-pointers, two of them as the Razorbacks were erasing that 12-poit deficit.

While it wasn’t the best night for Moses Kingsley stat-wise, he worked hard on both ends of the floor, and for the first time I remember this season, he attempted to be a post player for extended periods in the game.

Kingsley had his shot blocked a couple of times and missed a couple of other attempts that should have gone down, but it was still good to see him attempt to be the inside presence the Razorbacks need.

It was an ugly game, but a two-point, ugly win counts as much as a blowout victory in the win-loss column.

The play of Cook and Watkins were bright spots, particularly on defense. Arkansas coach Mike Anderson can build off that.

And if Kingsley can continue to come along with his post play, the Razorbacks have a chance to improve.

Saturday night the Hogs have the chance to inch their way above .500 in SEC play. Even though I like to gripe, all things considered, I’ll take another ugly win if they can get it.