FAYETTEVILLE – When cancelled out of Tuesday’s game at Tulsa because of positive covid-19 positive tests among the University of Tulsa’s Golden Hurricane, Arkansas Razorbacks Basketball Coach Eric Musselman exuded double gratitude to the Conway based University of Central Arkansas Bears.
Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek consented adding UCA among other Arkansas based universities to various Razorbacks athletic schedules. It’s especially handy for Arkansas based schools seeking nearby nonconference opponents as covid-19 postponements mount.
UCA’s 0-3 Bears, coached by West Helena native and former Ole Miss Hall of Fame forward Anthony Boone and set on the 5-0 Razorbacks’ schedule for Saturday night’s 7 p.m. game at Walton Arena and announced Friday as televised by the SEC Network Alternate Channel, “were open” to playing the Razorbacks consecutive nights, Musselman said.
Ultimately Arkansas director of basketball operations and chief scheduler Anthony Ruta replaced the Tulsa postponed midweek game with Southern University of Baton Rouge, La.
Southern. Southern, cancelled out of a midweek game against No. 1 Gonzaga in Spokane, Wash. because of Gonzaga’s covid issues, lost 79-44 Wednesday night to Arkansas at Walton Arena.
“Central Arkansas I can tell you we (actually Ruta, Musselman said Thursday) talked if we couldn’t find another opponent about potentially playing them Friday and Saturday night,” Musselman said Wednesday night on postgame radio. “And they were open to the idea. I have great respect for their coaching staff because they were open.”
It wasn’t the first time Musselman said he had cause to pay UCA respect.
“We had great dialogue back and forth when we added the original schedule and called Central Arkansas,” Musselman said. “They jumped all over it and said, ‘You guys pick a date.’They were more than accommodating to want to play this game.”
UCA then accommodated Saturday’s tip-off time change, from the original 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. accommodating fans attending and TV watching the Arkansas vs. Alabama SEC football game kicking off at 11 a.m. at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Boone’s Bears likely just want to play with four of their first seven games either covid cancelled or postponed. However since Dec. 4 they’ve played three, road losses, 85-68, 86-83 and 88-65 to the University of Memphis University, the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, and St. Louis University.
Despite the defeats the Bears bear up from 3-point land. Point guard DeAndre Jones, 13.4 points average, has hit 8 of 14 treys. Leading scorer Rylan Bergersen, 17.4 points average 6 of 11, and sixth man Jaxson Baker, 5 of 13.
“Yeah, I mean we’re going to have to defend the three,” Musselman said. “I think it starts with Jones at the point, their all-time assist leader, second leading scorer. Then you move to Bergersen who is their scorer.”
Musselman did not like his Hogs’ early-season 3-point shooting defense but applauded holding Southern to 1 of 13 attempting treys.
Although big but certainly not huge, 6-8, 6-7, 6-7 up front, and Bergersen 6-6 then Jones, looking up at 5-11, they’ve three games outrebounded their opponents.
“They’re a good rebounding team too,” Musselman I mean they’re plus 3 on the glass, and they’ve played against UALR, Memphis and St. Louis. So rebounding is gonna be important.”
Arkansas has outrebounded, 241-170 its so far outmanned opponents. 7-3 center Conner Vanover in only 100 total minutes by far leads Arkansas’ rebounders, 44, and shot-blockers, 18.
Musselman calls Vanover “our goalie” protecting the rim.
“He’s allowed us to gamble,” Musselman said. “Because if a team has a 2-on-1, he does a great job of playing cat-and-mouse and understanding to stunt and bluff then get back and protect the rim.”
In just his second year at Arkansas, Musselman said he is all for playing UCA and other instate schools, especially after taking with Arkansas’ women’s basketball head coach, Greenwood native Mike Neighbors and former high school coach in Arkansas and administrative assistant to former Lady Razorbacks Coach Gary Blair and fulltime assistant to former Lady Razorbacks Coach Susie Gardner before head coaching the University of Washington to the Final Four.
“I know he (Neighbors) obviously spent way more time in the state than I have,” Musselman said. “He felt like it’s a great. I think it’s great. It’s good for UCA, too. It’s easier travel on them. It’s good for their brand. It’s good for our brand. I don’t see any negatives at all. I think it’s a really positive thing for the fans and both programs.”