FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas has two games remaining before it opens Southeastern Conference play at Texas A&M on Jan. 8.
So Arkansas coach Mike Anderson knows time is running out for his team to get everything accomplished, polished and prepared before the 18-game schedule begins. And one of the key items on the post-Christmas to-do list is making sure guard Anthlon Bell’s early-season scoring success returns.
“I think for his sake and our team’s sake, I think that’s going to be big,” Anderson said Friday afternoon. “He’s established that he’s a guy that can knock shots down. Now we need to see that start taking place.”
Anderson and the Razorbacks (9-2) are hoping it happens starting 7 p.m. Saturday, when they return from their short holiday break to play High Point (3-7) in Bud Walton Arena. Arkansas carries a five-game win streak into its next nonconference test, but Bell hasn’t offered much offensive help during the stretch.
In fact, the Memphis native went scoreless for the first time this season in Arkansas’ 72-60 win against South Alabama last Saturday and is averaging 3.4 points a game since the Razorbacks returned from the Maui Invitational. Bell is shooting just 26.9 percent (7-for-26) from the field and 11.8 percent (2-for-17) from three-point range during the five-game streak, struggling after getting off to a hot start this season.
Anderson said he hasn’t lost any confidence in Bell as a shooter. He doesn’t believe Bell has lost his confidence either.
But Bell may be pressing after struggling the past few weeks.
“Some guys, it can be some of that,” Anderson said. “That’s why I say, let’s do some other things to get you going. Get a little short pull-up. Get to the free throw line. Still take good shots. I think that’s the key. To take good shots.
“I think if you watch him, the closer he gets, whether it be a three-pointer or closer to the basket … I mean, his percentage is way up off the charts.”
Bell is shooting over 50 percent (13 of 25) inside the arc this season. After a hot start from long range (12-for-27 through four games), he has dipped to 30.5 percent on three-pointers (18 of 59). His scoring average has dropped sharply as well.
Bell opened the year as the team’s leading scorer after reaching double figures in three of the first four games. He’s now sixth at 7.6 points a game.
The good news is that Arkansas hasn’t been hurt by Bell’s struggles.
Ky Madden has emerged as a dependable scorer in the backcourt, reaching double figures in five straight games. Forward Coty Clarke is playing better as well, joining Michael Qualls, Bobby Portis and Alandise Harris as the team’s top scorers.
“With a team like this here, somebody has always got your back,” Anderson said.
Arkansas players were not available for interviews this week, so Bell couldn’t elaborate on his struggles Friday. But Anderson said the good news is that Arkansas has had some extra time in the gym because of the school’s winter break.
He said Bell isn’t overwhelmed in frustration by his scoring slump.
Instead, Anderson said “he’s going to work.”
“Time is going to allow him to get back in the gym,” Anderson said. “It’s about getting reps. Get some repetitions in and that will be the carryover. When he started out the season I thought he was really has put a lot of time in just working on different phases of coming off screens, knocking down open shots. Putting the ball on the floor for one dribble pull up. He did those things. But I want him to continue to try to embrace being a better defensive player. So that puts him out on the floor.”
But it’s clear that Bell — who played a season-low 14 minutes in the South Alabama win last week — needs to rediscover his shooting success to stay on the floor.
“I think with the presence of having some guys of size that can score, it’s going to certainly open it up for outside,” Anderson said. “The opportunity will be there to knock shots down.”