Gafford, Hogs struggle when in foul trouble
FAYETTEVILLE — When the University of Arkansas basketball team played Missouri the first time this season, Daniel Gafford didn’t draw a foul while playing 35 minutes.
It’s the second time in 58 games for the Razorbacks in which Gafford — a 6-11 sophomore from El Dorado — hasn’t been called for a foul. He also didn’t have a foul in 29 minutes earlier this season when the Razorbacks beat Texas-San Antonio 7967 in North Little Rock.
Without any foul problems to worry about against Missouri, Gafford helped Arkansas beat the Tigers 72-60 on Jan. 23 in Walton Arena with 13 points, 10 rebounds and 2 steals while hitting 6 of 9 shots.
Arkansas (14-9, 5-5 SEC) plays Missouri (11-11, 2-8) again at 8 tonight in Mizzou Arena with Gafford coming off his lowest-scoring game of the season in the Razorbacks’ 77-65 loss at South Carolina last Saturday.
Gafford drew his second foul with 15:23 left in the first half and went to the bench. He didn’t play the rest of the half and finished the game with 8 points in 22 minutes while hitting 4 of 5 shots and missing his only free throw attempt. His five rebounds matched his second-lowest total this season.
“I didn’t think he played his best,” Razorbacks Coach Mike Anderson said. Anderson said. “I didn’t think he matched their physicality.
“I thought when the physicality took place he got those fouls, and I think maybe it just kind of went from there.
“You could see his rhythm wasn’t there. So we expect a better performance from Daniel.”
When Anderson took out Gafford after his second foul, the two had a verbal exchange that was caught by television cameras.
“There were no [heated] words,” Anderson said. “Probably more frustration than anything else with Daniel.”
Fouls have been an issue for Gafford since the first Missouri game. He has drawn at least three fouls in four of the last five games and fouled out at LSU with Arkansas going 3-2 in that stretch.
The Razorbacks won 9089 at LSU when sophomore guard Mason Jones drove for a basket with 22 seconds left and Gafford on the bench.
“I think he’s got to figure that out,” Anderson said of Gafford fouling less. “Obviously, it was a problem last year, and he’s been really good about it this year.”
Gafford drew two or fewer fouls in 11 of the Razorbacks’ first 17 games.
“I think it has a lot to do with position,” Anderson said. “Getting in the right spot. Just move your feet.”
Anderson said Gafford, who has a 7-4 wingspan, has done a good job much of the season of using his length on defense.
“But sometimes you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Anderson said. “When you get to conference play, obviously people are coming at him offensively and defensively, and he’s got to figure that out on the floor in terms of gauging when to and when not to go and block a shot or just play position defense.”
Gafford is one of five players nationally who is averaging more than 15.0 points and 8.0 rebounds and shooting better than 60 percent from the field, according to Arkansas’ media relations staff.
Another of the five is Duke freshman Zion Williamson, the projected first overall pick in the NBA Draft who is averaging 21.8 points, 9.2 rebounds and shooting 68.4 percent.
Gafford is averaging 16.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and shooting 67.0 percent.
“I think he’s having a great season,” Anderson said. “Just think about where he was last year to where he is right now.”
Gafford — who averaged 11.8 points and 6.2 rebounds as a freshman on an NCAA Tournament team led by senior guards Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford — is the only returning starter for the Razorbacks this season.
“He’s on the top of everybody’s scouting report,” Anderson said. “When you look at what’s returning with this basketball team, he’s the focal point.
“Now we’ve added some people around him. And guess what? Because he’s a focal point, those guys are the beneficiary.”
Arkansas freshman guard Isaiah Joe leads the SEC with 82 three-point baskets and is averaging 14.1 points.
Sophomore point guard Jalen Harris, a transfer from New Mexico, is averaging 5.8 assists. Sophomore guard Mason Jones is averaging 13.8 points after transferring from junior college.
“Those guys are the recipients of Daniel drawing a lot of attention,” Anderson said. “So if you look at what he’s done, his production has gone up from last year.”
Arkansas forward Daniel Gafford tries to get around South Carolina’s Felipe Haase (13) and Chris Silva (30) on Saturday in Columbia, S.C. Gafford has drawn at least three fouls in four of the past five games.