By Nate Allen
Special to the News-Times
FAYETTEVILLE - Two weeks ago, 6-11 El Dorado native Daniel Gafford played so well for the Arkansas Razorbacks that he was named SEC Freshman of the Week.
Foul trouble drastically reduced Gafford’s effectiveness since, but he still supplied the game-winning tip-in that edged Oklahoma State 66-65 in last Saturday’s Big 12/SEC Challenge game at Walton Arena.
Meanwhile fellow Razorbacks big men, Trey Thompson, the 6-9 senior from Madison via Forrest City High, and 6-8 seniors Dustin Thomas and Arlando Cook, all played key parts in Arkansas’ 80-77 SEC road victory on Jan. 23 at Georgia and against Oklahoma State.
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson could talk big about his big men.
Until last Tuesday’s 80-66 SEC loss to the Texas A&M Aggies in College Station, Texas.
A&M big men Tyler Davis, Robert Williams, DJ Hogg and Tonny Troche-Morelos so belittled the Arkansas bigs in comparative performances that Anderson described his bigs more like they belonged on a milk carton than a basketball court.
All, plus Adrio Bailey, the 6-7 often starting sophomore struggling so lately that Anderson didn’t even play him against A&M, need to find themselves and their game, their coach asserts, when the Razorbacks (15-7 overall, 4-5 in the SEC) visit the LSU Tigers in Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. SEC Network televised SEC game at LSU’s Maravich Center in Baton Rouge, La.
LSU (12-9, 3-6) is the lone team this season to beat Arkansas at Walton Arena in Fayetteville. They embarrassed the Razorbacks 75-54.
“We have to have all of our players on deck,” Anderson said Thursday before the Razorbacks practiced at Walton. “And that means our forwards have really got to start stepping up. We’ve got to get Daniel involved. We’ve got to get Trey involved. We’ve got to get Dustin Thomas involved - Arlando Cook. That doesn’t necessarily mean just scoring, but we’ve got to have some scoring from those forwards. In the A&M game, that was very absent.”
Combined against A&M, Arkansas’ big men scored just seven points, five from Gafford and two from Cook, with a combined 10 rebounds against the collective 40 points and 26 rebounds from big Aggies Davis, Williams, Hogg and Troche-Morelos.
LSU doesn’t have as many adept big men as Texas A&M, but the Tigers have at least two seniors in Aaron Epps and Duop Reath that are more than good enough. They proved it against Arkansas.
Epps had a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds double-double against the Hogs last month in Fayetteville, while Reath scored 11 points with six boards and two blocked shots.
They outperformed the Arkansas bigs, which concerns Anderson with his bigs just outdone by the Aggies.
“The one thing that I'm really kind of wondering about is that forward position,” Anderson said. “The consistency. We saw the other night against Oklahoma State those guys came in and gave us some great minutes. Dustin Thomas, Arlando Cook, Trey Thompson. Then we go play A&M and they're missing in action. So we've got to have some consistency for our basketball team. That to me is the most important thing.”
Offensively, there is an onus for the inside game to ease the perimeter scoring pressure placed on senior guards Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon.
“I feel like our defense has been much improved, and now I think we've got to really start getting some transition easy buckets and get an inside presence,” Anderson said. “That means Daniel has got to touch the basketball.”
Of course, it would help if Gafford could stay out of foul trouble and be available longer to touch the ball.
That Gafford, Thompson, Thomas and Cook all at times have accomplished what’s set before them has Anderson saying they can do it again.
Same for Bailey, who had some big games last season and earlier this season and comes home Saturday as a Campti, La., native playing in Baton Rouge, La.
“Yeah, he’ll get a chance to play,” Anderson said. “It’s based on what he does in practice.”
Anderson said obvious effects from a recent illness got sophomore reserve guard C.J. Jones pulled after just four total minutes against Texas A&M.
Anderson said he anticipates Jones to be recovered for increased active time in Baton Rouge.