NORTH LITTLE ROCK — Despite eyeballing Arkansas in person for the first time, I’m still in the dark about Mike Anderson’s second group of Razorbacks.
From the recliner, it’s difficult to tell much about the finer points of the skills of a particular individual. Mostly, it’s a general impression that B.J. Young can get to the basket, that Marshawn Powell is a solid scorer, and that walk-on Kikko Haydar is an immediate pick-me-up.
Up close on Saturday, the inability to get a read reflects on the quality of the opposition. The Alabama A&M Bulldogs didn’t come close to challenging the Razorbacks the way Robert Morris did 48 hours earlier in Fayetteville.
In that five-point victory, Anderson was quick to bench Young, Powell and Hunter Mickelson for silly things or for going less than all-out like Young did after he made a careless pass and failed to cut off the opponent who made the steal. There were a couple of those moments in the second half that night — Powell attempting a three after one pass and Young shooting early in the shot clock with a five-point lead late in the game — that grated on Anderson, but he couldn’t sit his most prolific scorers because the game was close.
Against Alabama A&M, Arkansas made its first seven shots before Mardracus Wade missed from outside. Three offensive rebounds later, Powell scored in close for an 18-8 lead.
Arkansas scored the final 10 points of the first half for a 51-34 halftime lead. The final was 95-68.
Anderson used 13 players in the first half and the interpretation is that he’s still looking for substitute he can count on. That search may still be in progress when Arkansas opens Southeastern Conference on Jan. 9 at College Station against Texas A&M (8 p.m., ESPNU).
The Razorbacks’ starters are noticeably better than the next group, particularly when the game is get-up-and-go. Rickey Scott, who started at point guard in place of a gimpy Rashad Madden, pushed the pace when the ball was in his hands. Clearly, somebody has been in his ear about being more aggressive.
Things seen and heard in Verizon Arena:
• Barely 5 minutes into the game, Haydar came off the bench to the delight of the crowd. He hustled down the lane, made a right turn under the basket, hugged the baseline and then popped out to take a pass — just like it’s drawn up. Two possessions later, he took a charge. Both the anticipation and letdown were audible when he took a 3-pointer and missed. A second-half three was heartily endorsed.
• Anderson was on his feet much of the time, even when the margin crawled past 30. Calling Young by his initials, the coach pointed out something on the defensive end. Seconds later, Young was off and running and zipped a pass to Powell for a dunk and 35-20. Minutes later, Powell made a steal under the basket and lost his balance waiting on a teammate. Anderson applauded the effort.
• Curtains drawn in much of the second deck, the crowd of 9,760 seemed more intimate than in years past and they were enthusiastic.
• Jacorey Williams’ arms are noticeably long. His noticeable shortcomings on defense earned him a seat on the bench after a couple of minutes. On TV, he is one of the new players who looks like he might be something one day.
• Anthlon Bell has the release of a three-point shooter, but he was only 8 of 32 in the first 10 games and 1 of 3 against Alabama A&M. For the night, Arkansas was 5 of 18 from long range.
Despite the tone of the column, I do not get a percentage of over-the-counter ticket sales for Razorback home games. I’m just saying it’s a better game in person than on TV.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.