UA is SEC’s worst in 3-point defense

Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman reacts, Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024, during the second half of the Kentucky Wildcats’ 63-57 win over the Razorbacks at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. Visit nwaonline.com/photo for today’s photo gallery..(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)
Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman reacts, Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024, during the second half of the Kentucky Wildcats’ 63-57 win over the Razorbacks at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. Visit nwaonline.com/photo for today’s photo gallery..(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)


FAYETTEVILLE -- Even when the University of Arkansas men's basketball team put together what Coach Eric Musselman called its best 80 minutes in SEC play, three-point defensive struggles persisted.

Kentucky, ranked No. 17 in the latest Associated Press poll, was pushed to the limit before beating the Razorbacks 63-57 at Walton Arena on Jan. 27 in a game ultimately decided by three-point shooting.

The Wildcats, who trailed by six points with 15:45 left, hit 7 of 11 three-pointers in the second half, including 5 of 6 in the final 7:24 to finish 9 of 20.

Arkansas (11-11, 2-7) had a dominant 91-84 victory at Missouri last Wednesday night, leading by 23 points in the second half and by 84-68 with 1:49 left, but the Tigers hit 10 of 20 three-pointers.

LSU then hit the most three-point baskets the Razorbacks have allowed this season in beating them 95-74 at the Maravich Assembly Center last Saturday.

Led by 7-0 senior center Will Baker, the Tigers hit 12 of 23 three-pointers for 52.5%.

It was the most three-pointers LSU has made in an SEC game and its second-highest total of the season. The Tigers hit 14 of 26 three-pointers (53.8%) in beating Mississippi Valley State 106-60 in the opener.

Prior to playing Arkansas, the only other game in which the Tigers shot better than 50% on three-pointers was 52.4% (11 of 21) in a 96-55 victory over Northwestern (La.) State.

LSU started 6 of 7 from three-point range against the Razorbacks, including Baker going 3 of 3, in building a 30-14 lead with 6:24 left in the first half.

Arkansas didn't pull closer than 12 points the rest of the game and trailed by 28 in the second half.

Baker, 9 of 31 on three-pointers on the season and 2 of 10 in SEC play coming into the game, finished 4 of 5 with 25 points.

"We didn't close out to him," Musselman said on the Razorback Sports Network postgame radio show. "Didn't rotate when we had to get out to him."

Baker got open looks on the perimeter on pick-and-pop plays.

"He was hot in the first half, open on some threes," Arkansas senior forward Jalen Graham said. "We had a game plan for that because we knew that when he would set a screen, [a Razorbacks'] big would have to come help.

"So we got someone to stunt, but he was just making shots. He was just hot, man."

So were LSU freshman guard Michael Williams, who hit 4 of 6 three-pointers, and senior guard Jalen Cook, who was 3 of 5.

The Tigers became the third of Arkansas' nine SEC opponents to shoot 50% or better on three-pointers and the seventh to have a higher three-point percentage than their season average in conference play.

Along with Missouri, No. 15 South Carolina shot 50% on three-pointers against the Razorbacks. The Gamecocks, at 35.1% in SEC games, hit 9 of 18 in a 77-64 victory at Walton Arena.

Missouri is shooting 30.2% on three-points in SEC play.

Arkansas is on pace for its worst three-point defense in Musselman's five seasons.

The Razorbacks rank 301st nationally at 35.7% (176 of 493) and are last among 14 SEC teams in conference games at 39.7% (78 of 199).

In Musselman's first season at Arkansas in 2019-20, the Razorbacks held opponents to 27.2% (164 of 602) to rank No. 1 nationally.

"We haven't guarded the three all year," Musselman said after the South Carolina game. "It's our issue to fix as a staff, but we're doing the same drills we did when we led the nation in defending the three.

"I don't like to talk about the past, but I have found myself doing that a lot this year."

Arkansas senior guard Jeremiah Davenport credited South Carolina for shooting well, but also was critical of his own team.

"Defense was lackadaisical," Davenport said.

Arkansas opponents shot 33.7% on three-pointers in 2020-21, 32.4% in 2021-22 and 31.1% in 2022-23.

"It's our job to get players to improve," Musselman said on RSN's postgame show at LSU. "It's our job to get players to follow the game plan.

"Just the execution come game time is not there."

The Razorbacks' next game is against Georgia (14-8, 4-5) at 5 p.m. Saturday at Walton Arena, so they have a full week of practice to try to improve in all areas, but especially on three-point defense.

Georgia shot 33.3% (9 of 27) when it beat Arkansas 76-66 on Jan. 10 in Stegeman Coliseum.

In SEC games, Georgia is shooting 36.2% on three-pointers.

When the Razorbacks beat Texas A&M 78-77 at Walton Arena on Jan. 16, the Aggies shot 20.7% on three-pointers. They were 6 of 29, including 1 of 15 in the first half.

But Texas A&M, shooting 25.6% on three-pointers in SEC play, nearly beat Arkansas on a three-point basket.

Wade Taylor, who scored 41 points, hit 4 of 15 three-pointers and on his final attempt gave Texas A&M its only lead of the game, 77-76, with 7.8 seconds left.

Tramon Mark then hit a short jumper with 1.1 seconds left to lift the Razorbacks to their lone SEC home victory.

"Defending the three, we talk about it every day," Musselman said on RSN's postgame show at LSU. "We drilled it the last game and we won, but [Missouri shot] 10 of 20.

"Guys are nervous about closing out, I guess. The thought somebody is going to go by them.

"But we're not keeping a guy in front and we're not guarding the three."

Arkansas added seven transfers this season after losing four players from last year's team who have played in the NBA as rookies, including freshmen Anthony Black, Nick Smith and Jordan Walsh.

"Some guys, it's still new to them and it takes some time to break some habits," Musselman said last Monday on his weekly radio show when asked about Arkansas' three-point defense. "Last year Jordan, Anthony and Nick, I thought that group of guys, it wasn't that hard to teach them to do it."

Musselman said Arkansas' two freshmen -- guard Layden Blocker and forward Baye Fall -- have done a good job of picking up on the defensive concepts this season.

"As I go through this thing," Musselman said, "I think it might be a little bit easier to teach some things to the younger guys just from a habit standpoint."


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