Arkansas hoops: Valuable lessons to be learned from tough losses

Freshman Desi Sills (left) and junior Adrio Bailey / Photo:

As tough as the Arkansas basketball losses to Texas (73-71 in overtime) and Western Kentucky (78-77 at the buzzer) were, I much prefer them to the demoralizing blowouts the football Razorbacks suffered at various points this fall.

Lessons can be learned by a young team that gets nipped at the end like Mike Anderson’s Hogs (6-2) have a couple of times early this season. I’m not sure anything can be learned from the way the football Hogs performed in their final two games against Mississippi State and Missouri.

That said, the hardwood Hogs need to catch on quickly in how to handle late-game situations with the SEC schedule just a few weeks away.

As competitive as the SEC is shaping up to be, the Razorbacks need to become very comfortable at performing in high-pressure, late-game situations if they want to have a successful season.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: vs. Texas-San Antonio
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15
Where: Verizon Arena, North Little Rock
TV: Not televised

Remaining schedule

Dec. 19 – Georgia Tech
Dec. 22 – Texas State
Dec. 28 – Austin Peay
Jan. 5 – at Texas A&M
Jan. 9 – Florida
Jan. 12 – LSU
Jan. 15 – at Tennessee
Jan. 19 – at Ole Miss
Jan. 23 – Missouri
Jan. 26 – at Texas Tech
Jan. 29 – Georgia
Feb. 2 – at LSU
Feb. 5 – Vanderbilt
Feb. 9 – at South Carolina
Feb. 12 – at Missouri
Feb. 16 – Mississippi State
Feb. 20 – at Auburn
Feb. 23 – Texas A&M
Feb. 26 – at Kentucky
March 2 – Ole Miss
March 6 – at Vanderbilt
March 9 – Alabama
March 13-17 – SEC Tournament

Now, I don’t want to be too harsh on the way the Razorbacks played late against Western Kentucky last Saturday. Jalen Harris got a good look at the basket on a drive, but Hilltoppers center Charles Bassey made a fine play to edge away Daniel Gafford to block Harris’ shot..

While the Hogs got the ball back, they had just 1.8 seconds to get off a shot. Double teamed, Gafford lost his balance after catching the inbounds pass in the paint, but still got off an awkward shot. The play wasn’t ideal, but few things are in life or basketball.

The Razorbacks could have won the Western Kentucky game late, but I’d argue that’s not when they lost the game.

To me that came with the Razorbacks’ flat opening to the second half when the Hilltoppers outplayed the Hogs in every facet to go on a 24-8 run and take an 8-point lead.

Credit the Hogs for battling back to tie the game on a Desi Sills’ layup with 8:35 to play and on a Sills’ free throw at 4:32. The Hogs also retook the lead on a basket by Gafford with :45 to play.

However, where was the defense and the offense early in the second half?

Every minute, every second counts in a hotly contested game. Had the Razorbacks played better in the early minutes of the second half, late-game heroics might not have been needed.

The early second-half lapse wouldn’t be that alarming if it was a one-time thing. But hidden in the Razorbacks’ 98-74 road blowout of Colorado State was a 17-2 second-half run by the Rams that cut the Hogs’ lead to 67-60 with 12 minutes to play.

The Razorbacks woke up and ran the Rams out of the gym for a big victory, but most of Arkansas’ opponents the rest of the season won’t be as bad as Colorado State.

Giving up big runs in back-to-back games is a troubling trend.

As the Hogs learned last Saturday, if you leave a crack in the door, some teams are good enough to knock it down.

Maybe that lesson will sink in during finals week?

As Hog fans, we do have to remember this is a young basketball team, and as heady and talented as it is, everything is new for many of the Razorbacks this season including college classes and the holidays away from home. It’s an adjustment for every newcomer.

We’re going to see ups and downs from this team. I just hope there are plenty of ups so they are dancing in the middle of March.

The Hogs are back in action at 7 p.m. Saturday against Texas-San Antonio in Verizon Arena at North Little Rock. The game is not televised.