By Nate Allen
Special to the News-Times
FAYETTEVILLE - Traditionally the Vanderbilt Commodores would be the SEC’s most feared men’s basketball team shooting a game of H-O-R-S-E.
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson will emphasize to his Razorbacks the Commodores’ sprees of threes sharp-shooting reputation with Vandy coming to Walton Arena for Saturday night’s 7:30 SEC Network televised SEC game.
Arkansas well defended the 3-point shot (6-of-18) in its last outing, Tuesday night’s 81-65 SEC success at Walton over South Carolina, but it was just the two games previous to last Tuesday that Texas A&M hit seven second-half threes soaring from a 33-32 halftime edge to an 80-66 home SEC triumph over Arkansas that was followed last Saturday by LSU’s phenomenal 15-of-30 treys to beat Arkansas 94-86 in an SEC game in Baton Rouge, La.
“It’s a team that has multiple guys that can really shoot the basketball,” Anderson said before the Razorbacks practiced Thursday.
“So our defense, especially our perimeter defense, which has been lacking in some of the previous games, has really got to be on point.”
Though only 9-15 overall and 3-8 in the SEC compared to Arkansas’ marks of 16-8 and 5-6, second-year coach Bryce Drew’s Commodores have consecutively scored 81 points their last three games, winning the last one at their Nashville home, 81-65 over the Georgia Bulldogs Wednesday night. On Jan. 30, Vandy took Kentucky to overtime, losing an 83-81 heartbreaker in Lexington, Ky.
Media with little deadline time postgame on bad weather Tuesday night in Northwest Arkansas to delve with depth regarding Anderson playing barely-used freshman forward Gabe Osabuohien for 17 minutes against South Carolina barraged him with questions at Thursday’s press conference.
Anderson explained that other than alternating five-men Daniel Gafford, the freshman from El Dorado, and senior Trey Thompson, the Madison native and Forrest City High grad, the Hogs have been consistently inconsistent at the power forward spot with seniors Dustin Thomas, not used against South Carolina though he will play against Vandy, Anderson said Thursday, and Arlando Cook and sophomore Adrio Bailey, the starter against South Carolina.
Osabuohien had the furthest to come upon arrival, but consistently improved in practice and consistently asserted his 6-8, 219-pound frame on the dirty work end, whether rebounding or taking charges, a team-leading seven despite the fewest minutes (69) of any scholarship player.
Osabuohien took two charges against South Carolina, forced a five-second call, grabbed four rebounds, kicking out his offensive rebound for an assist on a Jaylen Barford 3-pointer.
“I was going to play him because he has been really practicing well,” Anderson said of bringing Osabuohien off the bench early for Bailey and sticking with him for key minutes both halves.
“I think he gives us another injection of enthusiasm and energy. And this is a time of year that you need energy and you can get it from a guy like that that’s 6-8 or 6-9 and can rebound and play real rugged. To me, that’s a blue-collar kind of guy.”
A blue-collar guy with blue-collar guts and white-collar smarts how to take charge taking a charge.
“When you go over the defensive drills, he's one of those guys that really listens,” Anderson said. “And it's just his instincts. His instincts are really, really good.
“Especially with the way we play. Our defense is geared to getting people sped up, and if you can get a big guy back there that can read and anticipate, and get to those spots when those guys are getting out of control, those are big plays.”
Anderson always emphasizes who plays the key minutes is more important than who starts the game but did not rule out Osabuohien debut starting against Vandy Saturday.
“In terms of who we’ll start, we’ll see what takes place in practice,” Anderson said. “We haven’t had anybody just be consistent.
“You get quality minutes on what you do with those minutes and the other night in Gabe’s case, this guy just had a big-time impact on the game and didn’t even score a bucket.
“I mean two charges, a five-second call, some tremendous rebounds, good passes, good screens. His basketball IQ is huge for our team.”