FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas freshman Jacorey Williams understands why he only played 1 minute in last Saturday’s loss at No. 3 Michigan.
The forward realizes why his fellow freshmen — Dee Wagner, Michael Qualls and Anthlon Bell — watched most of the game with him on the Arkansas bench.
“To adapt to that type of environment, you kind of need to have been there before,” Williams said. “So it’s kind of hard to adapt when it’s your first time being there on the road, especially in that type of environment at Michigan. It was pretty crazy.”
But Williams and his classmates, who combined to log just 10 minutes in the 80-67 loss in Ann Arbor, Mich., aren’t planning to be spectators tonight when the Razorbacks (4-4) play Alcorn State (2-6) in Bud Walton Arena.
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said tonight’s game — which kicks off the final five-game portion of nonconference play — is the starting point of an important stretch for his youngsters with Southeastern Conference games approaching.
He wants to see the group, which struggled through much of Arkansas’ difficult five-game test against Arizona State, Wisconsin, Syracuse, Oklahoma and Michigan, grow.
He believes it’s possible against opponents Alcorn State, Robert Morris, Alabama A&M, Northwestern State and Delaware State, who are a combined 19-23.
“We get an opportunity now to give those guys the opportunity to play some more,” Anderson said. “And if they have it going when they are playing well, I am going to leave them out there. I am not opposed to that. But I think these games coming up will certainly give them an opportunity to play more and get a little more seasoned.”
Anderson shied away from it during Arkansas’ first true road game at Michigan. Wagner did not play, while Qualls (6 minutes) Bell (3 minutes) and Williams (1) were used sparingly. Instead, Arkansas used a shorter rotation and leaned on veterans like Rickey Scott (10 points) and Kikko Haydar (13) to boost bench play.
It wasn’t an isolated incident. The newcomers also didn’t log much time in Arkansas’ win against Oklahoma a few days earlier. The freshmen combined for three points in 24 minutes in the home win.
But Bell said the freshmen aren’t frustrated by the recent limited opportunities.
Instead, they see the upcoming stretch as a valuable chance to gain some ground.
“Hopefully, it’s going to help us all get our confidence up going into league play,” said Bell, who is 4.3 points and shooting 28.2 percent from the field. “We want coach to have more confidence in us to go out and play and perform.”
Arkansas, with the help of its freshman class, also hopes to string together wins beginning with tonight’s game against Alcorn State. The Braves are 0-4 against the Razorbacks with the last meeting coming in the 2009-10 season opener. Former Hog guard Rotnei Clarke scored a school-record 51 points in a 130-68 win.
Anderson was asked if he thought his team was capable of a letdown after playing nothing but high-profile competition the past few weeks. He said it’s doubtful, considering the fact Arkansas has players on its bench with plenty to prove.
It includes Oklahoma State transfer Fred Gulley, who is expected to make his Arkansas debut tonight after sitting out a year for NCAA transfer rules.
“I guess most coaches would (worry), but I am not worried about that,” Anderson said. “The reason why is because we have some guys sitting on that bench. We have got one guy sitting on that bench – you know he’s hungry. And those other guys sitting on that bench, you know they are hungry as well.”
Williams said it’s true. He’s anxious to play against anyone after logging 2 minutes in Arkansas’ past two games. The rest of the freshmen agree.
All four are hoping to the next five games show Anderson and the rest of the Razorbacks they can be counted on when SEC play begins in January.
“We want to show coach we’re ready to play against any team,” Bell said.