Once again, we dug ourselves a 6-0 hole early. It was 8-1 before we finally scored a FG. Turnovers killed us early in the game. While there was some contact on a lot of the turnovers, we've got to be more strong and physical with the ball.
Once the guys finally scored and got settled down they actually played very well for stretches. After falling behind early, we fought back to take a 6 point lead early in the 2nd half. We started making the extra passes and finding the open man against the Hog's trapping defense. Rodney Cooper stepped up big time offensively, unfortunately Shannon Hale and Retin both had off nights.
The game was close throughout the 2nd half until Arkansas stretched their lead out to 8 with around 4 minutes to play. I don't think it is a coincidence that we were down 1 when Rodney Cooper came out of the game with 6 minutes left and we were down 6 when he finally came back in around the 2 minute mark. I wasn't there so maybe he was showing signs of fatigue or asked for a breather, and I understand wanting to rest a guy for the stretch run, but I just don't think you can put your hot scorer on the bench during a key stretch of the game, especially for 4 minutes.
Arkansas also did a better job of making defensive adjustments. Once we figured out their full court and half-court traps, they went to a 3-2 zone. This really slowed down our offense. I disagreed with the announcers assessment that the uptempo game would really favor Arkansas. In some regards, I thought this was a good matchup for us because we aren't very good in the half court game.
The story of the game was Bobby Portis dropping 35, setting a new record freshman record at Arkansas. When a guy with his size is able to shoot with that kind of range, he will present matchup problems for everybody. Still, at some point, I think we should have forced them to make somebody else beat us. We could have ran more zone and fronted him to try to deny him the ball. It seemed like Jimmie Taylor was on him in the man to man much of the night, and he just couldn't defend away from the basket. At one point Shannon Hale was trying to guard him. Why not put Cooper on him in the man and then double team every time he touches the ball?
Once again we got killed on the boards. It seemed that Arkansas got an offensive rebound every time we were able to come up with a big stop. We have about 4 guys on this team that never blocks anybody out.
Despite everything, Arkansas missed some free throws late and we had the ball with a chance to tie only down 3 in the final minute. Coop passed up an open but long shot, and Retin had a decent look from the corner, but instead decided to drop his head and charge toward the basket for some reason. Retin plays as hard as anyone, and he may be the most athletic player on the court most nights, he's fun to watch, but he's got to start making better basketball decisions.
One small positive, I was glad to see Levi shooting the ball. Sure, he's in a slump, and he had a bad night, 1 for 7 from the field and 0 for 3 from downtown, but he needs to keep his confidence and shoot his way out of it. It would help if he would be a little more physical and aggressive and get to the free throw line once in a while.
Up next, we go to Florida for an 11 am Central time tip off Saturday morning. Hopefully Billy Donovan will show some mercy on us. I originally planned on going to this game, but after calculating the amount of money and time I've already invested in this lost season, I've decided to sit out the away games at least until the SEC tournament.
Speaking of the SEC tournament, this is off-topic, but the SEC Hockey tournament will be played at the Pelham Civic Complex this weekend. Our Frozen Tide is the #2 seed in the West and will take on Vandy Friday night at 7pm. You can see the bracket and more info here. Since these are club teams, the SEC's prohibition on alcohol sales does not apply, for those who are so inclined. I just thought I would throw it out there for anybody in the Birmingham area looking for something to do this weekend.