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Vanover a problem for Bears

by Bob Holt | December 12, 2020 at 2:29 a.m.

FAYETTEVILLE -- University of Central Arkansas Coach Anthony Boone isn't sure how the Bears will deal with Connor Vanover tonight when they play the University of Arkansas.

Vanover, a 7-3 redshirt sophomore, is averaging 10.0 points, 8.8 rebounds and 3.6 blocked shots in 20.0 minutes through the Razorbacks' first five games. He's hit 9 of 20 three-pointers.

"Connor has a very unique game for a guy his size, and he moves very well for his size," Boone said. "Somebody who is that big and can shoot the ball from the perimeter and is a threat around the basket as well, that's tough to imitate in practice.

"Not everyone has a 7-3 guy they can throw out there and say, 'OK, you pretend to be Connor Vanover.' You just can't prepare for him. He's kind of like a unicorn. You don't see other players like him."

The Bears did have a player who could have done a good job of imitating Vanover -- his brother. Brandon Vanover, 7-0, was a UCA player the previous three years.

"Brandon wasn't as athletic as Connor, but he was a very intelligent player," Boone said. "It would be great to have him this year to imitate Connor in practice. Brandon's an incredible young man and was a great student-athlete in every sense."

Smith's dunks

Two dunks by Arkansas 6-7 senior Justin Smith, a graduate transfer from Indiana, against Southern on Wednesday night made ESPN SportsCenter's Top 10 plays. One dunk was ranked No. 4 and another No. 9.

"I think it's awesome," Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman said. "He's an incredible leaper. I think the thing with him is he's a powerful dunker as well."

Musselman said the exposure on ESPN will help recruiting.

"I think anytime you can get on 'DaDaDa, DaDaDa,' it's a good thing," Musselman said, imitating the SportsCenter theme music.

Twice as nice

Coach Eric Musselman said before Arkansas was able to schedule Southern on Wednesday night to replace a game postponed by Tulsa, there were discussions between the UA and UCA staffs about playing Friday night as well as tonight.

It wouldn't have been the first time it happened.

Arkansas and UCA played on back-to-back days in Fayetteville on Jan. 1 and Jan. 2 in 1924 during the first season the Razorbacks had a basketball team. They beat the Bears 62-27 and 31-14. The teams also played two consecutive games during the 1935-36 season at Conway -- Arkansas' media guide doesn't list the dates -- with the Razorbacks winning 42-38 and 66-27.

Bears Coach Anthony Boone said he probably would have agreed to play the Razorbacks on Friday night and tonight, but he's glad it didn't come to that.

"We certainly would have looked at doing that if Arkansas had asked us," Boone said. "But it would have been very tough with our upcoming schedule."

Arkansas is the first of three consecutive SEC opponents UCA is scheduled to play in a five-day span.

After tonight's game, the Bears play at Ole Miss on Monday and at Mississippi State on Wednesday.

UCA had been scheduled to open the season Nov. 25 at Ole Miss -- where Boone played from the 1994-95 through 1997-98 seasons -- but that game was canceled because the Rebels were having covid-19 issues.

Any crowd is good

Arkansas is limiting its capacity for games in Walton Arena to 4,400. That attendance is small by the Razorbacks' usual standards, but UCA Coach Anthony Boone said he's thankful for any fans being there.

"We just played at Saint Louis and they didn't allow any fans at all," Boone said. "So whoever is there, it'll seem like a whole lot of people and we'll appreciate all of them."

On the boards

UCA has outrebounded each of its first three opponents with a 39-36 edge against Memphis, 37-36 against the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and 36-35 against Saint Louis.

Beating a fourth consecutive opponent on the boards, Bears Coach Anthony Boone said, won't be easy considering Arkansas has a plus-14.2 rebounding margin in its first five games.

"We're going to be really challenged to rebound against Arkansas," Boone said. "This team that Coach Muss [Eric Musselman] has rebounds the ball extremely well.

"It's going to be a rough night for us if we're not totally on it."

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