Cutting, sharing key to curing Hogs’ shooting woes

The upside of the Arkansas Razorbacks’ 57-51 home loss to the Florida Gators Wednesday night is that it will be hard for the Hogs to play a worse basketball game this season.

The downside is that the Gators didn’t have to play that well themselves to walk away from Walton Arena with a victory.

It was an epically bad night, a historically bad night for Razorback shooters. The lowest home point total by the Razorbacks during the Mike Anderson era, which is now in its eighth year. Arkansas’ 15-for-50 shooting performance (30 percent) tied a school record for the school’s worst shooting night.

The Razorbacks did just about everything they could do to lose the basketball game besides committing hari-kari at court side. No doubt a few of the 9,950 who attended the game could have felt like ritual suicide would have been an honorable response after that performance.

While callers on statewide talkshows weren’t necessarily wanting Anderson’s head after the loss, many were calling for answers for why the Razorbacks’ program is no further along in his eighth season as coach than it is.

The Razorbacks have made three NCAA Tournaments in the seven previous seasons, and with mid-January approaching, the likelihood of another NCAA berth is in serious question after the Razorbacks’ first two games in SEC play.

The Hogs are 10-4 overall and 1-1 in SEC play, but have lost three of those games in in Bud Walton Arena. That has fans more than wary about the Razorbacks’ postseason chances.

Frankly, the Razorbacks are fortunate to be 1-1 in SEC play. After shooting poorly from behind the three-point arc for most of the game, the Hogs banged in four treys in the final five minutes of their 73-71 victory at Texas A&M.

That late surge gave Arkansas enough of a cushion that they survived shooting 11 of 22 from the free-throw line against the Aggies.

Any road win is to be treasured, but the elation over the victory hid the fact that the Hogs shot just 37.1 percent from the field, 30.3 percent from the three-point line, and 50 percent from the free-thrown line in the game.

Those numbers don’t guarantee a team a loss, but they certainly aren’t percentages a squad can win with very often.

The Hogs pulled off the victory over the Aggies with a superlative night on the boards for the Razorbacks, outrebouding the Aggies by six on the offensive glass and by four on team rebounds.

Unfortunately, the Razorbacks’ shooting woes continued against the Gators on Wednesday.

Arkansas shot 30 percent from the field, 23.1 percent from three-point range, 57.7 percent from the free-throw line. Those kinds of numbers will not only get a team beat on most nights but blown out.

Incredibly after falling behind by 16 to the Gators, the Razorbacks battled back to make it a one-point game. The Razorbacks had the ball with around 30 seconds left with a chance to take the lead.

However, after a timeout, sophomore Mason Jones took a wild shot that had virtually no chance of going in. His teammate junior Adrio Bailey grabbed the rebound, but instead of passing it out to reset the offense, a Gator swatted his shot to seal the victory.

A more experienced team might have made a minor miracle happed in that last minute to pull off a win, but the Razorbacks aren’t an experienced team. They are inexperienced and stubborn, and they are taking their lumps for it.

Following the game, Anderson pointed out that the Razorbacks needed to make more shots. He added that his team got open looks, but it was one of those nights where the shots just didn’t fall.

I guess you can look at it that way. Some of the shots taken and missed were open, but open doesn’t always equal good.

It looked to me like his young guards bought into a little fool’s gold after their three-point shooting barrage pulled their bacon out of the fire against the Aggies.

It seemed like Jones, who scored 30 and hit 4 of 9 treys, and freshman Isaiah Joe, 2 of 9 threes, were going to try and test the law of averages with their outside shooting.

Their shots were quick, out of flow with the offense, and as the game went on pressure-packed. Most of all, their quick shots shut down a key component of the Hogs’ offense by not allowing sophomore forward Daniel Gafford to get many touches.

Granted Gafford was strapped with fouls for much of the night, but an All-American-type player needs more than just four shots. Gafford’s 9 points was his lowest scoring performance of the year, an it came on the heels of his previous low of 11 against Texas A&M.

Florida is an O.K. defensive team, and no doubt their play slowed down the Hogs some, but in SEC play, the Razorbacks have to be more aggressive with their dribble penetration, more exact and quick in their movement without the ball, and more precise with their cuts to get the most out of their motion offense.

Gafford has to be a bigger component of the offense if the squad is going to get the most out of their meal ticket.

Arkansas was executing well earlier in the season when they were averaging nearly 20 assists a game, but the Hogs had just 10 assists against the Gators.

If the Razorbacks are going to course correct, they have to be willing to work as hard to get their teammates open as they work to find their own shot.

After watching the Hogs struggle in their first two SEC games, it’s hard to know what kind of team they are capable of being. Their ceiling looks decidedly lower today than it appeared in early December.

However, whatever Arkansas’ ceiling is, the Hogs will come closer to reaching it if they will cut, execute, and share the basketball more like they were doing early in the season.

The Razorbacks are back in action at 5 p.m. Saturday against LSU at Walton Arena in a game that will be televised by the SEC Network.