Hogs Roll Into Alabama on Two-Game Win Streak
By Nate Allen
Everything except the TV cameras should roll tonight. Nolan Richardson's Arkansas Razorbacks are on a two-win roll rolling into Tuscaloosa, Ala.
In tonight's SEC West clash they roll into an Alabama Crimson Tide that recently rolled, 59-46, in Oxford, Miss., over the same Ole Miss Rebels that rolled the Razorbacks, 91-74, at Walton Arena.
Tipoff tonight is 7 p.m. at 'Bama's Coleman Coliseum.
TV didn't pick up this game, the lone remaining Razorback game other than maybe the regular-season closer at LSU not to be televised by either CBS, ESPN or Jefferson-Pilot.
No wonder they call it the boob tube. You've got to figure that if just one game on the remaining Razorback schedule could not be televised, only a boob would designate it be the Alabama game.
Arkansas-Alabama games have been filled with surprises and suspense ever since Arkansas joined the SEC in 1992 with a team that included current NBA players Todd Day, Lee Mayberry and Oliver Miller against an Alabama team that graduated Latrell Sprewell, Robert Horry and James Robinson to the NBA.
"Those Todd Day and Latrell Sprewell days," Richardson said, "those games went down to the wire. That Arkansas-Alabama series, those are some tough games, always intense. Kentucky is always going to be THE game for Arkansas, but you talk about building a rivalry, its got to be Alabama."
Except for the first year when they played three games, with Alabama getting two out of three with a buzzer shot to eliminate Arkansas from the SEC Tournament semifinals, Arkansas and Alabama have always split their series though not always conventionally.
The last two years, Arkansas won at Tuscaloosa but lost at Walton. Richardson was startled into a malaprop when his memory was jogged about that.
"We won the last two years at Alabama?" Richardson said laughing. "Shoot! I've got old-timers disease. Alzheimers, old-timers, whatever, the Arkansas-Alabama games are starting to blend with time but it's a blend that has fans from each school rabidly in the mix."
Tonight appears no different. Arkansas (8-4, 2-2 SEC) looks confident again, having righted itself from an 0-2 conference start with a 56-55 win at Auburn last week and last Saturday's 82-57 victory over LSU at Walton.
Alabama (11-4, 1-1) has dropped four of its last five, but that one was the big one in Oxford between Ole Miss victories over Arkansas, Georgia and Kentucky.
"I know whatever has happened their last four of five," Richardson said, "it won't be the same when they play the Razorbacks. Alabama has a chance to beat anyone, anytime, anywhere in our league because of their athletic ability. That Ole Miss game, that's an impressive victory. There won't be many coming into Ole Miss and coming out alive.
Alabama Coach David Hobbs claims the Tide isn't as athletic as in the past because it doesn't have an outstandingly agile big man like ex-Alabama greats-turned-pros Antonio McDyess, Roy Rogers and Jason Caffey.
Maybe not. Hobbs has enough depth to play 10 players every game and have four of them average double figures. Senior 6-foot-4 small forward Eric Washington averages 17.1; 6-8 junior forward Demetrius Alexander averages 13.2; 6-1 sophomore guard Brian Williams averages 13.0; 6-1 sophomore guard Anton Reese averages 10.1; and even 6-9 center Thalamus McGhee, a non-scoring big man last year, can shoot now.
"Last year we played five on everyone else and left him alone," Richardson said. "We've got to guard him now."
Arkansas has fouled less and played defense more in its last two games. That's an essential trend against 'Bama. The Tide has connected on 76 percent of its free throws.
"When you look how they are shooting from the line," Richardson said, "that shows you what kind of shooters they've got. We need to be aggressive but smart. We can't beat ourselves, but that's what you do when you let them shoot free throws every time down the floor. They shoot more 3s. Washington is dangerous. He's one of the premier players in the league and has been a thorn for us a lot of nights. Brian Williams is a big-time basketball player. He was big-time as a freshman last year. They have a good mixture of JC players who have got them going. Watching tape, I could see how they got off to a great start."
Hobbs sees facing the same old problems from an Arkansas lineup that adds junior guard Tarik Wallace, playing well at both ends of the court, to senior center Lee Wilson, sophomore forward Derek Hood and sophomore guards Kareem Reid and Pat Bradley who played against 'Bama last year. Reid scored 24 in Arkansas 71-63 triumph at Tuscaloosa.
"The first thing you have to have to have a chance against Arkansas is ball security," Hobbs said. "You have to take care of the ball. They do a tremendous amount of things that give you problems. They put a lot of pressure on you and trap and double up the rebounder. You have to find the open man against the pressure and attack the basket. If you don't, you both allow them to pressure and not pay a price for it. They do all sorts of things that confuse you. You have to rebound the ball to have easy opportunities against them because they are few and far between.
"Offensive rebounding," Hobbs said, was a 'Bama bright spot in a 70-66 non-conference loss to Syracuse last Saturday. LSU murdered Arkansas on the offensive boards last Saturday but couldn't make a killing on the scoreboard because the Tigers committed more turnovers than stickbacks.
Richardson said the Hogs must rebound better and know dodging the bullet at Auburn while shooting a horrendous 39 percent isn't likely to be dodged on the road again.
"We realize that though we didn't shoot well at Auburn," Richardson said, "we've got to shoot better on the road. You keep officials out of the game when you shoot well."