Sooners stand in the way of Hogs extending winning streak to double digits

Davonte Davis / Photo:

The No. 12 Arkansas Razorbacks will be looking for their 10th victory of the season and perhaps their most impressive win so far this year on somewhat neutral ground at 12:30 p.m. Saturday when the Hogs face Oklahoma in the BOK Center at Tulsa.

The game will be televised by ESPN2.

A victory Saturday over Oklahoma (7-2), which will be joining the SEC in 2025 if not sooner, would be the best start for the Razorbacks under coach Eric Musselman in his three years as head coach, and the Hogs’ best get off since going 10-0 to open the national championship season of 1993-94.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: Oklahoma
When: 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 11
Where: BOK Center, Tulsa

Next 5 games

Dec. 18 – Hofstra (in Little Rock), 7 p.m. (No TV)
Dec. 21 – Elon, 6 p.m. (SEC Network)
Dec. 29 – at Mississippi State, 4 p.m. (SEC Network)
Jan. 4 – Vanderbilt, 7:30 p.m. (SEC Network)
Jan. 8 – at Texas A&M, 12 p.m. (SEC Network)

The Razorbacks (9-0) opened last year at 9-0 before losing to Missouri at Walton Arena. Musselman’s first squad advanced to 8-0 before taking one on the chin at Walton Arena against Western Kentucky.

Arkansas’ best start in modern program history came in 1977-78 when the Razorbacks started the season 11-0 before losing 75-69 to Texas at Austin. That squad, which featured Marvin Delph, Ron Brewer, and Sidney Moncrief, would go on to finish third in the nation after beating Notre Dame in what would be the last consolation game of the Final Four.

First-year Oklahoma head coach Porter Moser is familiar with Arkansas and the Razorback program after serving as head coach at Arkansas-Little Rock from 2000-03 before head coaching stints at Illinois State (2003-79) and Loyola-Chicago (2011-2021). He worked as an assistant for Rick Majors from 2007-2011 at St. Louis.

His 2018 Loyola squad shocked the college basketball world by making a run to the Final Four after being a No. 11 seed.

“Playing Moser’s teams before, they’ve always been really, really solid and good defenders,” Musselman said. “He’s a guy that has great preparation leading up to games. There’s no surprise. He’s done a great job everywhere he’s been.”

The Sooners have been tagged with two losses, but both were close. Utah State defeated Oklahoma, 73-70, in a neutral-site game in the championship of the Myrtle Beach Invitational in their opening week of the season. Oklahoma fell 66-62 to Butler at Norman on Tuesday.

“Obviously, they are a really talented team at 7-2,” Musselman said. “The Butler game was a really phenomenal game to watch. They are a talented team. It’s a neutral site, but hopefully it will be a really good environment for both teams.”

Tanner Groves leads the Sooners in scoring at 14.7 points per game and rebounding with 6.3 rebounds per game.

“Groves, up front, is a really good player,” Musselman said. “He can post up, shoot the 3, and go out on the floor.”

Best Starts in UA Basketball History

11-0 in 1977-78 before losing to Texas
10-0 in 1994 before losing to Mississippi State
9-0 in 1978-79 before losing to Texas
9-0 in 2020-21 before losing to Missouri
8-0 1992-93 before losing to Louisiana Monroe
8-0 in 1997-98 before losing American-Puerto Rico
8-0 in 2019-20 before losing to Western Kentucky

Jordan Goldwire is Oklahoma’s top assist man with 4.2 a game. He also average 9.7 ppg. Umoja Gibson is Oklahoma’s second-leading scorer at 11.3 ppg, with Elijah Harkless and C.J. Noland averaging 9.2 and 9.0 ppg respectively.

“Goldwire has experience, coming in from Duke,” Musselman said. “Gibson, their off guard, can really stroke the ball. Harkless plays extremely hard. He’s good in transition, a good rebounder.

The Sooners are averaging 74.1 points per game, while the Razorbacks like a quicker pace, scoring 83.3 ppg.

JD Notae leads the Hogs and is second in the SEC in scoring to Alabama’ Jaden Shackelford (19.3 ppg) at 18.7 ppg. Jaylin Williams leads the Hogs in rebounding and assists with 8.7 rebounds and 4 assists per game. He also pitches in 7.1 ppg. as does Razorback center Hunter Vanover.

Au’Diese Toney is second on the team in rebounding and scoring with 6.8 rpg. and 13.1 ppg. Chris Lykes and Stanley Umude come off the bench to average 12.4 ppg and 9.8 ppg respectively. Davonte Davis averages 9.8 ppg and 3.8 assists.

Notae leads in steals with 27, followed by Davis with 13 and Williams with 12 for the Hogs which average 8.7 steals per game. That figure helps mitigate the 11.1 turnovers the Hogs are averaging per game.

While the Razorbacks have a solid field-goal and a decent free-throw shooting percentages at 48.1 percent and 69.7 percent, Arkansas hasn’t shot well from the 3-point line this season at 28.5 percent.

Davis, who played wing last season, is getting more and more comfortable handling point guard duties. He had 8 assists in the Hogs’ 86-66 victory over Charlotte on Tuesday.

“I’m more comfortable getting everyone involved,” Davis said Thursday. “I want to be a leader at the point guard position and keep feeding my teammates when they are in open spots. I’m handling a lot of things all at one time, but I’m in a happy place, and I’m going to continue to do that and continue to get better every day.”

Davis has scored a combined 34 points in the last two games for a 17 ppg. average.

“I’m getting the feel and am more comfortable at the point,” Davis said. “I didn’t run it much last year. But, yeah, just being more comfortable, getting more reps in practice, and leading the team. It’s becoming natural for me. I’m going to continue to get better.”

Davis’ uptick in assists makes the Razorbacks offense function that much more smoothly. His play has improved as he’s gotten to know his newer teammates better.

“My teammates know that someone is looking for them when they are open,” Davis said. “Like Au’Diese when he cuts from the darker spots, or like Jaylin Williams when he’s on a pick and roll or even Connor. So just seeing those guys and making the right reads helps them out. I know they are looking for the ball, and I’m, looking for them.”

Davis said assistant coach Anthony Ruta has been working with Vanover on catching the ball in traffic.

“Coach Ruta was throwing bullets at him,” Davis said. “That’s going to help Connor and the team.”

Davis said being a vocal leader has been his biggest adjustment from his freshman season to now.

“Learning to be a vocal leader has helped,” Davis said. “Knowing the system, it’s my job to relay that to newer guys, especially in the summer.”

The Hogs are excited for the opportunity to face OU, and according to Davis, the Razorbacks will be prepared for a battle.

“I’m ready,” Davis said. “I know the other guys are ready. I hope Oklahoma is ready because we are coming to Tulsa to get a win.”