Musselman says Arkansas men’s basketball players are ‘grinding’

Arkansas men's basketball Coach Eric Musselman reacts Jan. 27 during the second half of the Kentucky Wildcats' 63-57 win over the Razorbacks at Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)
Arkansas men's basketball Coach Eric Musselman reacts Jan. 27 during the second half of the Kentucky Wildcats' 63-57 win over the Razorbacks at Walton Arena in Fayetteville. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)

FAYETTEVILLE -- When the University of Arkansas men's basketball team plays Georgia for a second time this season, the Razorbacks will have something new for the Bulldogs.

Arkansas, which lost at Georgia 76-66 on Jan. 10, has a week to get ready for the rematch Saturday at Walton Arena.

The Razorbacks (11-11, 2-7 SEC) don't play a mid-week game, while the Bulldogs (14-8, 4-5) play at Mississippi State tonight.

"We added a different play package [in practice] than we've had," Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman said Monday night on his radio show. "So whatever we run will be some things that Georgia hasn't seen.

"Now it's up to us to execute them properly and make shots and set better screens and all of that. But we will be adding some things, because we do have a little bit more time than usual."

Musselman also announced on his show senior guard Davonte "Devo" Davis returned to the Razorbacks for Monday's practice after stepping away from the program and missing the previous three games when Arkansas lost at home to No. 17 Kentucky 63-57, won at Missouri 91-84 and lost at LSU 95-74.

Neither Musselman nor Davis has said why Davis left the team temporarily. But Musselman said Davis had a good return practice after they had a productive meeting Sunday, then lifted weights together.

Davis, averaging 6.3 points and 4.0 rebounds per game with a team-high 40 assists, has been with Musselman for four seasons -- longer than any other player in the program.

"We're excited to have him back," Musselman said. "I think he's excited to be back with us."

Arkansas junior guard Tramon Mark, averaging a team-high 17.8 points, said it was good to see Davis at practice.

"Devo works hard," Mark said on Musselman's radio show. "I know him stepping away was kind of shaky for the team, but he practiced with energy like he always does. So it was good for all of us having him back."

Razorbacks redshirt sophomore forward Trevon Brazile, averaging 8.9 points and a team-high 6.5 rebounds, has missed the past three games because of knee soreness. He has been sitting out since the second half of Arkansas' 77-51 loss at Ole Miss on Jan. 24.

Musselman said Brazile hasn't practiced since prior to the Ole Miss game.

"We're hopeful that the knee feels better," Musselman said. "It has not. There's been days that it feels good, and then there's been other days it's still sore and bothering him.

"So no update, no practice. He's really not doing much other than shooting. He has been trying to warm up with the team pregame the last couple games, but that's just to stay involved."

Brazile was a preseason first-team All-SEC pick by the coaches and Davis was a second-team pick. Each team included eight players.

"I think if you take any preseason all-league players off of any team ... there'd be some struggles," Musselman said. "But the fact of the matter is when you have injuries or players aren't with your team, nobody talks about that.

"They just talk about the results. We're in a results business because there's a scoreboard hanging up for every 40 minutes."

The result for Arkansas through the first half of the SEC schedule is being in 12th place in the 14-team conference standings.

"We have not played like we had hoped," Musselman said. "Now it's our turn [to have bye] to try to get better over this week, and that's what we're going to do.

"We gave the guys off on Sunday, and we're going to roll through this week and practice. We're not going to take off on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. We're grinding, man. We're trying to get better.

"We have a lot of areas we have to improve on, and there's not going to be a midweek off day."

Musselman said he's not sure why SEC teams are getting a midweek bye.

"I have a short attention span, so if there was discussion at one of the league meetings, I was daydreaming," he said.

Musselman said he prefers playing two SEC games per week.

"I like the rhythm of two games," he said. "You just never know how a team is going to respond, because it is very, very unique to go two games, two games, two games, then all of a sudden -- bam! -- you don't have that midweek game.

"So there's two ways a team can respond," Musselman added in reference to taking a step back or improving. "Hopefully we'll respond the right way."

Musselman has used 12 starting combinations this season. Thirteen Razorbacks have started at least one game and none have started every game.

"The rotations have been much different than the nine years I coached [in college] prior to this, and even coaching in the NBA," said Musselman, a former coach of the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings. "We were known for only playing seven guys.

"Let's face it, in the last four years there have been a lot of people criticizing us for not going deeper into our rotation. Now we're going deep into our rotation and we're getting [criticized].

"Look, we have all this data in practice and there has not been a lot of separation in practice. There's not been a lot of separation once we hit the game.

"And then you've got to evaluate the statistics, you've got to evaluate plus-minus [when players are in the game]. You've got to evaluate how players fit with one another.

"We're still searching for consistency. We would love it if we could get back to how we've done it, where we're playing only seven guys. But that means you need seven guys to step up and play with consistency."

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