OPINION — Like It Is

OPINION | WALLY HALL: Ugly battle, gritty victory for Razorbacks


It was ugly.

Defensive matchups always are, and the Arkansas Razorbacks had zero field goals and 7 of 8 free throws in the final 5:17 on Saturday and survived Tennessee 58-48.

The 10-point lead was the largest of the game and happened with six seconds on the game clock and only because the Razorbacks were shutting down the Volunteers on almost every possession.

Rule changes like a shot clock and the three-point shot were added to make games higher scoring and more entertaining.

Neither came into play Saturday when Arkansas moved back into a tie with the Vols for third place in the SEC standings.

In those final five minutes, Tennessee managed only six points despite the fact that JD Notae, Arkansas' best on-ball defender, played one second.

The Razorbacks' leading scorer was in foul trouble and played only 24 minutes. When he did come back in with 3:06 to play, he lasted one second.

The ball was inbounded to him, and he was called for an offensive foul.

Tennessee had its own foul problems as its top three scorers played much of the second half with four fouls. As time ran out, one fouled out despite the fact Rick Barnes had signaled to his team not to foul with just eight seconds to play.

Watching Barnes and Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman match wits was worth the price of admission.

Another standing room only crowd at Walton Arena saw the two mix and match man and zone defenses and various offenses. It was obvious they knew everything the other one was doing and what they had to do to counter-punch.

Barnes is in his seventh season with the Vols, who came into the game with an NCAA NET ranking of No. 11, and has a 142-80 overall record.

He was at Texas for 17 years but was fired with a 402-180 record.

Since he was dismissed without a second thought, the Longhorns have won 58% of their games, or 11% less than under Barnes.

On Saturday, the game was never going to be pretty because of the intense defense both teams play.

Not even the most overzealous SEC Network announcer will claim it was a classic.

Tennessee made just 16 of 59 shots (27.1%), and Arkansas wasn't much better with 18 of 59 (30.5%).

What was a little unusual was the Razorbacks, who came in with an NCAA NET ranking of 30 but picked up their third Quad 1 win, was missing high percentage shots.

At least six layups bounced out.

Yet, neither team let their offensive woes slow them on defense.

Every shot, pass and dribble was contested on both ends of the court.

Barring a complete collapse, which can't be seen with how hard the players compete, both of these teams are headed to the NCAA Tournament.

What they are playing for now is seeding, and the Razorbacks and Vols will close the regular season against each other in Knoxville, Tenn., on March 5. But before then, Arkansas has more work to do.

The Hogs go to Gainesville, Fla., this Tuesday -- where the Florida Gators beat Auburn 63-62 on Saturday -- then return home for another big game with Kentucky and host LSU before that final road trip.

On Saturday, not one Razorback shot 50% from the field, although Jaylin Williams was close, going 6 of 13 for 13 points to go with his 16 rebounds. He also took three charges.

The way the Hogs play, there is rarely a hero because they are team-oriented. They led 24-23 at the half but had just two assists. In the second half, they had five more assists and outscored the Vols 34-25.

With the game on the line, the Razorbacks did what they had to do: Keep Tennessee from scoring.