FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas guard Ky Madden hasn’t been regarded as a scorer throughout much of his collegiate career.
In fact, the Lepanto native’s career-high entering the 2013-14 season — 15 points — came in his third game as a Razorback. Madden had scored in double figures 12 times in 63 games. He averaged 6.6 points a game during his freshman season and the production dropped to 4.2 points last year.
But something has changed the past few weeks.
Madden has become one of Arkansas’ best offensive weapons.
“He’s playing with a lot of confidence,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “He’s taking what the defense gives him. He’s attacking. He’s just playing basketball. That’s great to see him starting to play at a high level.
“That just makes our team that much more dangerous.”
Arkansas has established itself as the Southeastern Conference’s top scoring team with a roster of players who have enjoyed strong starts to the 2013-14 season and Madden is one of them. The 6-foot-5 guard has scored 10 or more points in five of the last six games and ranks fourth on the team in scoring this season (10.1 points).
The production has been unexpected for a team that opened the year relying on Michael Qualls, Anthlon Bell, Alandise Harris and Bobby Portis to produce most of its points. But Madden said he hasn’t been surprised by the success even though it’s the best scoring stretch of his Arkansas career.
“I just feel like I worked hard in the offseason to better my game in all aspects,” Madden said. “That’s what I tried to do. I’m just more confident as well. My teammates are helping me out along the way. They keep encouraging me.”
Madden has been especially impressive the past two games.
He scored 14 points to help Arkansas beat Clemson on Dec. 7. It included his best performance behind the 3-point line, knocking down 4 of 5 attempts. Two of them came early in the second half, helping the Hogs open up a double-digit lead.
Madden followed it with a career-high 21 points in the win against Savannah State last Thursday. He was 8-for-11 from the field and 3-for-4 behind the 3-point line.
The production was vital, considering the Razorbacks struggled to find effort and energy during their worst first half performance of the year. Madden carried the load in the first half, scoring 13 of Arkansas’ 27 points before the rest of the Razorbacks snapped out of their funk and routed the Tigers in the second half.
“It’s a big help to the team,” Arkansas guard Rickey Scott said. “The more confidence he gets in his shot, it’s going to help the team. It’s going to build confidence in us. We want to play the same way he’s playing, with the energy he’s playing. It’s great.”
Madden is shooting 56.8 percent this season and his biggest improvement has come behind the 3-point line, where he was 24 of 106 (22.6 percent) as a freshman and sophomore. Madden said the improvement has come because of extensive work on his long-range shot in the offseason. There’s no doubt it has paid off so far.
In fact, Madden has quickly become Arkansas’ most effective 3-point shooter (12 of 20) this season. Bell (17 of 52) and Qualls (15 of 30) have made more, but Madden’s 60 percent effort from long range leads the Razorbacks.
“They haven’t asked me to shoot more, but if the shot is there just take it,” Madden said. “Don’t hesitate. It’s cool to know I can shoot whenever and it’s not a problem with me doing that. … (Anderson) has a lot of confidence in me.”
It has been evident since late last season, when Anderson began to trust Madden with the ball in his hands late in games. The Razorbacks entered the year counting on Madden in that role, too, believing his abilities and court awareness would be vital in their point guard by committee approach this season.
But Madden had to watch early on after being suspended for two exhibition games and the season opener for violating team rules. It was the third time Madden had been suspended in his career, but Anderson’s faith in the junior didn’t waiver after watching him accept the punishment and grow from it.
Madden got off to a slow start once he returned because of a stomach bug. But his impact on the Razorbacks is growing each game.
“Early in the year, he had his issues, but now he’s getting a chance to go play basketball,” Anderson said. “So now I think it’s becoming more instinctive to him.
“You don’t have to worry and think. You just go out and play and Ky is a tough matchup. I say that because Ky is about 6-5, 6-6. He can rebound the basketball. He can pass the basketball. He can set people up. He’s capable of knocking down shots.”
Madden has proven it with his recent stretch of success.
He has become one of Arkansas’ dependable scorers as conference play nears.
“I feel like I’ve always had it in me,” Madden said. “It’s just for me to bring it out. But I’m not surprised. I’ve put in the work to do what I do.”