FAYETTEVILLE – If the Alabama Crimson Tide was playing
somebody other than Arkansas at 5 p.m. today, Eric Musselman might well be
watching the Tide on TV.
First-year Arkansas coach Musselman’s Razorbacks, 15-5, overall 3-4 in the SEC, meet the 12-8, 4-3 Tide of first-year Alabama coach Nate Oats at 5 p.m.today on the SEC Network at the Tide’s Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
“Alabama’s team I like to watch on TV if we’re not playing,” Musselman said. “ I think Coach Oats does a great job. I like how they play. They shoot threes, they make threes. And they play with great pace. I think they are fun to watch.”
Musselman cites the Tide’s versatility and athleticism led by cat-quick point guard Kira Lewis, Alabama’s leading scorer averaging 16.7 points while dishing a 95 assists and averaging 5.6 rebounds, and 6-5 shooting guard/small forward John Petty hitting 65 of 139 3-pointers while averaging 15.8 points plus averaging 7.1 rebounds.
“They play with interchangeable parts where guys just play multiple positions,” Musselman said. “They shoot the three really well. Petty is shooting 47 percent from three. Anytime you’ve got anybody with a point guard with the speed off Kira Lewis – he’s a phenomenal player.”
Lewis orchestrates an Alabama attack scoring near and far but seldom in between.
“They hardly ever take a midrange shot,” Musselman said. “From an analytics standpoint they probably do as good a job as anybody in the league with shots at the rim, free throws attempted and 3-balls.
Before a not so close encounter of a losing kind, last Wednesday night’s 90-76 loss at SEC leader LSU, the Tide, opening in the SEC losing in double overtime at favored Florida, rolled to five wins in six games, four consecutively. Alabama won hosting Auburn, Missouri and SEC vs. Big 12 Challenge foe Kansas State and won at Vanderbilt. Also the Tide in Tuscaloosa thumped Mississippi State, 90-69 before losing by nine at Kentucky.
While calling Oats’ Tide “fun to watch,” it’s been awhile since Musselman had fun watching his Razorbacks in a SEC game. Despite a surprisingly solid 15-5 overall record including last Saturday’s SEC vs. Big 12 Challenge win over TCU, the Razorbacks have lost three consecutive SEC games. They lost two at home at Walton Arena, 73-66 Jan. 18 to Kentucky and last Wednesday, 79-77 to South Carolina with a 77-70 loss at Mississippi State in between.
The big plusses, win or lose, Musselman says he has never seen his team play less than hard. Nor has he seen a Walton Arena crowd, selling out on SEC Saturdays with announced 19,200 crowds and even on a rainy Wednesday night with a late 7:30 p.m. tip-off drawing 14,085 hosting South Carolina, less than inspired.
“I thought our crowd last night was awesome,” Musselman said. “Personally, I feel overly fortunate to be a part of a team that plays at 7:30 with rain and a midweek game and have enthusiasm in that building incredible. Sometimes I wonder if everybody with our program understands how special it is. That’s what I feel bad about is we had an incredibly positive energy from a crowd standpoint, and we couldn’t win in front of them.”
Mason Jones, the Arkansas junior guard posting a 34 points/12 rebounds double-double, put on a show for that crowd in a losing cause Wednesday. Musselman and trainer Mark O’Neal hope that key supporting Razorbacks Jimmy Whitt, their best defensive player and best midrange shooter, shooting guard Isaiah Joe and guard Desi Sills will be physically up to Saturday’s task.
Whitt did not practice Thursday after limping through the South Carolina game upon getting kneed in the calf.
Joe, 16 points against South Carolina, weathers lingering knee inflammation that withheld him from last Saturday’s TCU game.
Sills sprained an ankle and had to be helped off the court during Wednesday’s first half but returned for to play in the second half. Sills practiced Thursday though still feeling some of the injury’s effects, Musselman said.
Junior guard Jalen Harris, already averaging 23 minutes as sixth man with two starts, likely will get even more time against Alabama with three guards gimpy late week from injuries.
(END OF STORY, LINEUPS FOLLOW)
ARKANSAS (15-5, 3-4)
F-Mason Jones 6-5 Jr. 19.2 pts. 6.4 rebs.
F-Adrio Bailey 6-6 Sr. 6.4 4.7
G-Jimmy Whitt 6-3 Gr. 14.9 5.0
G-Desi Sills 6-1 So. 9.7 3.0
G-Isaiah Joe 6-5 So. 16.8 4.5
ALABAMA (12-8, 4-3)
F-Herbert Jones 6-7 Jr. 9.9 pts. 6.3 rebs.
F-Alex Reese 6-9 Jr. 9.8 4.6
G-Kira Lewis 6-3 So. 16.7 5.6
G-Jaden Shackelford 6-3 Fr. 12.7 4.2
G-John Petty 6-5 Jr. 15.8 7.1
(END OF TRANSITION)