If it takes a slap to snap a person or team back to reality, the Arkansas Razorbacks received a hard one last Saturday at Stillwater, Okla.
The Oklahoma State Cowboys ran the Razorbacks out Gallagher-Iba Arena, beating Arkansas, 99-71.
The Cowboys played an aggressive brand of basketball that left the Hogs flat-footed on both ends of the floor. OSU took a 9-0 lead and never really looked back.
It was more of a vivisection than a basketball game as the Cowboys sliced and diced the Hogs’ offense and defense while the Razorbacks just watched. The Razorbacks appeared to be in slow motion as the OSU picked every piece of their game apart.
Defense has been an issue for the Razorbacks all season, and there was absolutely no urgency to Arkansas’ defensive effort against the Cowboys. OSU scored easily and when they didn’t, they beat the Razorbacks up on the offensive glass with hustle and determination that the Hogs couldn’t match.
Offensively, the Razorbacks lacked a collective purpose in their motion offense. There were very few effective screens and not enough hard cuts. It was every man for himself in Arkansas’ second consecutive game with single-digit assists.
Jaylen Barford scored 21 points, and Anton Beard added 11, but neither shot 50 percent from the field. Dusty Hannahs and Moses Kingsley also scored in double figures, but it took Hannahs 10 shots to score 13 and Moses 11 to get 11. That’s not good offensive basketball.
Give Oklahoma State credit. The Cowboys played well, but it was as much about them taking advantage of Arkansas’ soft play than their own strong performance.
When you see that a team lost by 28 points, the first thought is the losing team wasn’t talented enough, but that wasn’t necessarily the case Saturday. OSU isn’t that much more talented than the Hogs if they are at all, but they played smarter, they played together, and they wanted that game more.
The Razorbacks fell to 16-5 with the loss and go into Wednesday’s 6 p.m. contest with Alabama at Walton Arena with a 5-3 SEC record. The Crimson Tide posted another solid win on Saturday with a 71-62 victory over the same Mississippi State that beat the Razorbacks, 84-78, at Walton Arena on Jan. 10.
The Crimson Tide is 13-7 on the season but tied with Florida for second in the SEC with a 6-2 league mark. South Carolina and Kentucky lead the way with 7-1 SEC marks and 17-4 overall records. Currently the Razorbacks are in fifth place, a game behind the Crimson Tide.
Finishing in the top four, of course, is key for a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament, which is played at Bridgeston Arena in Nashville on March 8-12.
Alabama has been playing excellent defense of late. They smothered a talented but young Bulldog squad on Saturday. They will attempt to do the same to the Razorbacks on Wednesday.
Arkansas will not win if they continue to work independently on offense rather than working together for the common goal. Arkansas’ battalion of scoring guards has to start picking for each other to help each other get open. They also have to play the game a bit more like chess or at least checkers when they penetrate, setting each other up rather than just going single-mindedly to the hole. Moses Kingsley needs touches, too, so he at least feels involved.
Defensively, the Razorbacks must give more effort for the duration of the game, not just in spurts. They must communicate, and they have to take more pride in getting stops and rebounds.
Being part of a team means sacrificing individually for the good of the whole. It also means sacrificing collectively to accomplish a goal. From the looks of Arkansas’ recent performances, those concepts are above the Razorbacks’ heads or below their concern. Maybe it’s both.
Whatever the case may be, the Hogs better pull it together or this season is going to go south hard and fast.