FAYETTEVILLE – On the Tuesday night before Arkansas lived the nightmare of trailing the Louisiana State University Tigers by 31 points during the first half of a SEC game the Razorbacks would lose, 92-76 at LSU’s Maravich Center in Baton Rouge, Alabama’s Crimson Tide lived the eternal SEC men’s basketball dream.
The Tide thrashed the league’s basketball bluest blue blood, Kentucky, 85-65 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky.
By Wednesday night Alabama Coach Nate Oats could have compared nightmares with the coach he next opposes, Arkansas’ Eric Musselman.
Arkansas, 10-3 overall, 2-3 in the SEC, and the Tide, also 10-3 overall but at 5-0 the hottest team in the SEC it leads alone, clash at 2:30 p.m. Saturday on the SEC Network at Alabama’s Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa.
The Tide’s roll over Kentucky subtracted starting Alabama forwards Herb Jones and Jordan Bruner in Lexington.
Mainstay 6-8 senior starter Jones, averaging 12.5 points and team-leading 6.1 rebounds, exited not to return because of an injured left wrist. It immediately ceased what had the makings of a Jones career game. Jones scored eight points the first and only eight minutes he played.
Jones acknowledged to Alabama media that he “will be out awhile,”
Bruner, the 6-10 graduate transfer via Yale, brought more than Ivy League degree to Alabama. His 5.3 rebounds rank second on the Tide. His 16 blocked shots lead the Tide.
Bruner underwent a less than major medical procedure on the knee he injured playing 20 minutes in Lexington. He harbors hopes playing in the Feb. 24 rematch with Arkansas at Walton Arena but not tonight.
Varying from 13 to 19 minutes, Oats used 6-9 and 6-8 forwards Alex Reese and James Rojas and 6-6 guards Keon Ellis and Juwan Gary in their place against Kentucky.
Look for Reese, because of his size and senior experience, to be one of the two replacement starters tonight joining outstanding veteran guards John Petty and Jaden Shackelford and emerging freshman Joshua Primo.
Meanwhile Alabama starting point guard Jahvon Quinerly is expected to miss his fourth consecutive game with what’s been described as “a medical condition.”
Musselman can empathize too well with Oats. He’s been without Arkansas’ best and toughest forward, versatile 6-7 grad transfer Justin Smith, since Smith injured an ankle during the first half of Arkansas’ first SEC game winning at Auburn.
Other than their 99-69 rout of Georgia last midweek, they’ve missed Smith sorely. Smith did travel as an on the bench spectator to Baton Rouge after a light no-contact practice Tuesday in Fayetteville. He has been projected actively soon to return from his surgical procedure.
No such luck for Arkansas freshman reserve guard Khalen “KK” Robinson, out for the season after major surgery for a broken foot.
Figuratively the Hogs hurt from following their best game, the 99-69 march through Georgia at Walton, with the worst 14 minutes of a first half that Musselman could imagine at Baton Rouge. Musselman spared no hurt feelings.
“I thought our shot selection was not good which is indicative of our shooting percentage (26 of 76 and 8 of 31 on treys),” Musselman said postgame in Baton Rouge. “We had eight assists. We didn’t have very good point guard play at all and our defense was just as bad. I thought that LSU was more physical and tougher.”
He said defensively only freshman starting guard Moses Moody, six rebounds, two steals and offensively 18 points, and freshman forward Jaylin Williams, 10 rebounds off the bench vs. LSU and likely to start tonight, “put forth effort.”
All were told repeatedly show some “fight” during the exhausted by 12-minutes of the second half timeouts, Williams acknowledged as the lone Hog postgame media available.
“We’ve got to get better as a team,” Williams said. “Fight harder. Play harder. Be better on the defensive end and offensive end. Share the ball. Limit turnovers. We’ve got to do a lot.”
Credit LSU and its entire starting five scoring 11 points or better having much to do with Arkansas doing so little.
But it was just last Saturday that Arkansas did a lot to destroy the same Georgia Bulldogs that earlier to overtime extended LSU before finally downed, 94-92 in Baton Rouge.
“I just think that as a team we played so well against Georgia,” Musselman said. “And you’ve got to understand as a young student-athlete that the next game is a completely different game. So there’s no carryover.”
ARKANSAS (10-3, 2-3)
F-Vance Jackson 6-10 Sr. 5.8 pts. 3.4 rebs.
C-Jaylin Williams 6-10 Fr. 3.6 4.6
G-Jalen Tate 6-6 Sr. 10.4 3.9
G-Moses Moody 6-6 Fr. 16.8 5.6
G-Desi Sills 6-1 Jr. 11.9 4.0
ALABAMA (10-3, 5-0)
F-James Rojas 6-8 Jr 3.8 pts. 4.3 rebs.
F-Alex Reese 6-9 Sr. 2.6 pts. 4.5 rebs.
G-Jaden Shackelford 6-3 So. 13.5 4.5
G-John Petty 6-5 Sr. 13.3 5.4
G-Joshua Primo 6-6 Fr. 8.0 3.2