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OPINION | WALLY HALL: In their defense, Hogs playing team ball

by Wally Hall | February 10, 2022 at 2:31 a.m.

Down two points with 42 seconds to play in regulation, and the Arkansas Razorbacks hadn't had a field goal in almost five minutes.

They had made 5 of 6 free throws to get it tied at 64-64 until Wendell Green's driving lay-up.

Auburn is a very good basketball team. A smart and well-coached team.

With the game on the line and the Tigers looked like they might escape the most hostile environment they have ever or likely ever will face.

They were not going to let JD Notae beat them.

They were on him like grass on dirt, but the new and improved Notae didn't lock his radar on finding a shot, but a way for the Razorbacks to score. He sliced a perfect pass to Jaylin Williams for two points and the tie.

Auburn missed a three-pointer and the game went overtime where Arkansas would get one field goal and 11 make free throws to beat The Associated Press' No. 1 team.

Heavy is the crown. The Tigers were No. 1 for 15 days.

Granted, and it needs to be said, Auburn was without starting point guard Zep Jasper who was out with a non-covid illness.

If he had played, it didn't mean the Tigers would have won.

Eric Musselman has remade this team by hand since opening the SEC 0-3.

Riding a nine-game win streak and getting closer to a No. 5 or 6 seed in the NCAA -- the Razorbacks' NCAA NET ranking jumped from 37th to 31st with the 80-76 win over Auburn -- it seems obvious three of Eric Musselman's rules are:

If you don't play defense, you don't play.

If you don't play defense, you don't play.

If you don't play defense, you don't play.

Another thing that seems obvious is the change in Notae, who has always been capable of scoring 28 like he did Tuesday night, but he wasn't playing like he could also get 3 assists, 3 steals and 5 rebounds.

He's also become very good at on-ball defense.

Another positive has been that Williams has become an offensive threat, a double-edged sword.

The 6-10 sophomore from Fort Smith was considered a defensive player who was tough enough to take charges -- taking three against Auburn to bring his season total to 35 -- and get some dunks. He is also showing he has a soft touch as a spot-up shooter beyond the arc.

That gives defenses fits. If they try to defend him on the perimeter he can also burn them with his pinpoint passing.

It isn't just those two either.

Stanley Umude is scoring inside and out, Au'Diese Toney had 10 rebounds against the Tigers, 3 assists and 3 steals.

Trey Wade played only six minutes Tuesday, but he's been steady.

That has given Musselman the chance to bring Devo Davis in off the bench, and when he does, he's throwing an almost whole new look at an opponent.

Davis, who along with Notae, is learning to play the point but against Auburn he had five steals, and was 2 of 3 on threes, and both of them were huge.

Tuesday night's box score was indicative of how aggressive the Razorback have become in attacking and drawing fouls.

They are not a great three-point shooting team as most of them can't create a three.

The Hogs had only 23 field goals to Auburn's 30 and were outrebounded 60-42. Those are not usually winning numbers, but the Razorbacks challenged Auburn man on man and the Hogs drew fouls.

They also turned Auburn's 19 turnovers, 11 of them steals, into 24 points, while the Tigers had just 10 points from 11 Arkansas turnovers.

Almost all of Arkansas' field goals that came out of the half-court offense had an assist.

That's team work, and that's what this group has become in the past five weeks, a team.

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