FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas was one of the Southeastern Conference’s worst teams behind the three-point line last season, shooting an ugly 30 percent.
It hasn’t taken long for the Razorbacks to show they’re much improved in 2013-14.
Arkansas – which is preparing for Thursday’s game against Savannah State in Bud Walton Arena — is off to a 6-2 start and its success from long range has been one of the biggest keys. The Razorbacks enter their next game leading the SEC in three-point field goal percentage (40.1) and are second in three-pointers a game (7.6).
The turnaround has surprised everyone but Arkansas coach Mike Anderson, who was confident his team would be more capable of success from long range. The Hogs have been challenged to make shots against zone defenses. They’ve succeeded.
“Those guys are playing with a lot of confidence,” Anderson said. “They put time in, so it is good to see them go out and have some success. Teams are going to pack it in there on (forward) Bobby (Portis) and pack it in there on Alandise (Harris).
“So those guys are going to have to have an unselfish nature to where they will just skip it to them and those guys have to knock shots down.”
One of Arkansas’ best performances came in last Saturday’s win against Clemson.
The Razorbacks went 8-for-13 behind the 3-point line in the first half to take control. It included a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Harris.
“The momentum after Alandise made his carried over to the second half,” Arkansas guard Ky Madden said. “It gave us the confidence that we need to come out strong.
The Razorbacks finished 10-for-21. It helped Arkansas put up 74 points against a defense that led the nation in points allowed a game (51.3) before the trip.
“Their three-point shooting, especially the beginning of the second half and the end of the first half, was really problematic for us,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said.
Clemson isn’t the only team that has been hurt by Arkansas’ success this season. The Razorbacks have made eight or more three-pointers in six of their eight games. It included a season-best, 11-for-22 performance in the Southern Methodist win.
Arkansas is well ahead of last year’s pace. The Razorbacks made eight or more three-pointers once in their first eight games. They did it nine times in 32 games.
Much of Arkansas’ success early this season was because of guard Anthlon Bell, who has made a team-high 17 three-pointers. But the Razorbacks have gotten long-range production from a number of sources since, including guard Michael Qualls.
“We have got a lot of people that can shoot the three-ball and a lot of people try to play us to shoot the three-ball because we are an attacking team,” Qualls said. “So now I feel like that we can knock down the three-ball they are going to have to play us up more and now we can be able to play more how we want to play getting to the rim.”
Only one Razorback — forward Coty Clarke — shot 40 percent or better behind the three-point line last season. He was 9-for-19 (47.4 percent) in 32 games.
So far, the Razorbacks have six players shooting 40 percent or better from long range this season. Qualls (14-for-28), Madden (9-for-16), Kikko Haydar (9-for-18) and Clarke (1-for-2) are at 50 percent or higher. Fred Gulley (4-for-10) and Mardracus Wade (2-for-5) are shooting 40 percent.
Bell was well over 40 percent earlier this season, too, but has cooled off. The sophomore is 3-for-15 the past three games. He is shooting 35.6 percent (17 of 48).
Anderson believes Arkansas’ improved threat in the post with Portis and Harris and better ball movement has played a significant role in the three-point improvement as well. The Razorbacks also lead the SEC in assists a game (16), free-throw percentage (73.9) and scoring (86.8 points). They are third in field goal percentage (48.2).
“I always say, if you look at the kind of shots, it’s because of the great ball movement,” Anderson said. “(Last Saturday), 16 assists on 22 field goals. That tells me our guys are sharing the rock. You make shots sometimes because of where the ball is coming from. As opposed to coming out and just shooting it.”
All of it has helped Arkansas transform itself into the SEC’s top three-point shooting team through eight games after being at the bottom of the conference last year.
“It’s just being confident that every shot is going to go in,” Madden said.