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Vanover reappears to give Hogs spark

by Bob Holt | November 14, 2021 at 4:12 a.m.

FAYETTEVILLE -- It had been a while since Connor Vanover got in a basketball game for the University of Arkansas.

Try eight months.

Vanover didn't play in the final three games last season when the Razorbacks made an NCAA Tournament run to the Elite Eight, then didn't play in this season's opener against Mercer.

But the 7-3 junior from Little Rock started on Saturday and made the most of his opportunity as No. 16 Arkansas beat Gardner-Webb 86-69 in Walton Arena.

Vanover had 19 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocked shots and 2 assists in 17 minutes. He hit 7 of 12 shots and 4 of 4 free throws and didn't have a turnover.

"I thought Connor was awesome," Razorbacks Coach Eric Musselman said. "I didn't play him in Game One trying to look at some of the new guys. He's in the rotation now."

Musselman said Vanover stayed positive after he didn't play in Arkansas' 74-61 victory over Mercer and that it would have been unfair not to give him a role in Saturday's game.

"He practiced hard every day," Musselman said. "He had great body language the night he didn't play. He's all about the team."

Vanover, who averaged 6.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 16.7 minutes in 29 games last season after transferring from California and redshirting, said he never questioned Musselman's decisions about playing time.

"I always have my trust in Coach Muss, so when he didn't play me at the end of last year and the beginning of this year, I took it and believed in him and just kept doing what I was doing," Vanover said. "I kept practicing, kept trying to get better and just jell with everybody.

"It's always about keeping on, so it just feels good to be back out there playing."

Arkansas sophomore guard Davonte Davis praised Vanover's mature approach.

"Yeah, it's a strong mentality," said Davis, who had 10 points, 6 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals. "A lot of people don't have that, and I think that's really rare.

"I'm glad that he continued to work hard and continued to just get better every day. He's done a good job of that."

Davis said Vanover stayed focused despite not playing.

"He did really well buying in, gathering himself and being prepared for the game," Davis said. "I think he ran the floor really well. I told him that actually at halftime, to continue to run the floor and post up and set his man up so I can continue to find him.

"If he can continue to do that, he'll get easy points like he did today."

Arkansas outscored Gardner-Webb 27-5 the last 6:25 of the first half to take a 42-25 halftime lead after the Runnin' Bulldogs had jumped ahead 21-15.

The Razorbacks pushed their lead to as many as 31 points, 78-47 with 7:42 left, and coasted to the victory with Musselman clearing the bench in the final minutes.

Senior guard JD Notae scored 18 points for Arkansas and senior guard Stanley Umude added 9. Sophomore forward Jaylin Williams had 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 points.

Gardner-Webb, which lost at UNLV 64-58 on Wednesday night to open the season, was led by freshman guard Julien Soumaoro's 20 points.

The Razorbacks handled the ball well with 23 assists compared to 9 turnoves and hit 13 of 27 three-points, including 4 of 7 by Notae and 2 of 3 by Davis.

Vanover scored the Razorbacks' first basket with an assist from Davis and had 12 points in the first half when Arkansas took control of the game.

"Guys really like playing with Connor," Musselman said. "They enjoy playing with him, and I think the greatest compliment a player can have is when his teammates really like playing with you.

"Having said that, we need Connor to be as consistent as he possibly can, because last year he had some really great games then some tough matchup stuff.

"We want to keep working with Connor because I feel like we're going to need him this year."

Vanover said he found out on Wednesday that he would start against Gardner-Webb, so he had some time to get prepared for it. He also said he felt better Saturday than he had earlier in the week.

"I''m not going to lie, the past two days I hadn't felt as good, but I woke up this morning, had me a little Pop-Tart and was like, 'I'm feeling great today,' " Vanover said. "So everybody knew from shootaround this morning that I was moving a little better, had a little extra pep in my step."

Vanover said he had a strawberry Pop-Tart with frosting.

"It was just a Pop-Tart we had in our cabinet this morning," Vanover said. "I definitely should start eating more of them."

 Gallery: Arkansas defeats Gardner-Webb 86-69


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