Razorbacks rid­ing high as Hill­top­pers come to town

The Sentinel-Record - - SPORTS - NATE ALLEN

FAYET­TEVILLE — NBA scouts are ex­pected to flock to Bud Wal­ton Arena to­day to see a bat­tle of two top big men in col­lege bas­ket­ball.

Arkansas (6-1), of the South­east­ern Con­fer­ence, is back at home af­ter earn­ing a con­vinc­ing 98-74 road vic­tory on Wed­nes­day in Fort Collins, Colo., against Colorado State (4-5), of the Moun­tain West Con­fer­ence.

The Razorbacks will host the West­ern Ken­tucky Hill­top­pers (4-4), of Con­fer­ence USA, to­day at 2:30 p.m. The game will be tele­vised by the SEC Net­work (Re­sort Chan­nel 79).

Arkansas fea­tures Pre­sea­son All-SEC sopho­more cen­ter Daniel Gaf­ford, of El Do­rado. Gaf­ford is av­er­ag­ing 18.7 points and 8.7 re­bounds with 15 blocks in 14 games.

“It’s go­ing to be a tremen­dous matchup,” said Arkansas head men’s bas­ket­ball coach Mike An­der­son. “I mean, two big guys that are re­ally mo­bile and ag­ile. I think Daniel’s got to con­tinue to do the things he’s been do­ing. Be hard to guard.”

West­ern Ken­tucky fea­tures fresh­man MaxPreps All-Amer­i­can Charles Bassey, of Nige­ria, via St. An­thony’s High School in San Antonio and As­pire Acad­emy in Louisville, Ky. Bassey av­er­ages 13.8 points and 9.6 re­bounds per game with 19 blocks in eight games.

“He’s got a big-time mo­tor and has a great pair of hands,” An­der­son said. “He can score. He’s a very, very tal­ented kid. Very tal­ented. But to me, it’s not go­ing to be just about those two guys. It’s go­ing to be about West­ern Ken­tucky ver­sus Arkansas.

The Razorbacks re­turned only Gaf­ford, junior start­ing for­ward Adrio Bai­ley as a semi-reg­u­lar starter last sea­son and sopho­more re­serve for­ward Gabe Os­abuo­hien as schol­ar­ship play­ers from last sea­son’s 23-12 team. An­der­son’s Razorbacks rank among the sur­prises of the young sea­son with six straight wins af­ter a sea­son-open­ing loss.

Rick Stans­bury is only his his sec­ond year as head coach at West­ern Ken­tucky, but he was a for­mer long­time head coach at Mis­sis­sippi State and was most re­cently the top as­sis­tant at Texas A&M for Billy Kennedy.

The Hill­top­pers may not seem so im­pos­ing com­ing off of an 84-78 loss to the Mis­souri State Bears (4-5), out of the Mis­souri Val­ley Con­fer­ence, in Spring­field, Mo. Their other losses have come at Wash­ing­ton (6-3), of the Pac-12; In­di­ana State (5-2), of the Mis­souri Val­ley Con­fer­ence; and against Cen­tral Florida (6-2), of the Amer­i­can Ath­letic Con­fer­ence, on a neu­tral court at the Myr­tle Beach In­vi­ta­tional in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. West­ern Ken­tucky de­feated Val­paraiso (5-4), of the Mis­souri Val­ley Con­fer­ence, and Big 12’s West Vir­ginia (5-3), in Myr­tle Beach.

Stans­bury added Bassey to a team that went 27-11 last

sea­son and made the semi­fi­nals of the NIT in New York.

“Their record might not in­di­cate how good a team they re­ally are,” An­der­son said. “They’ve played a tough sched­ule. They’re a very good bas­ket­ball team

“Coach Stans­bury, some­one we are very fa­mil­iar with at Mis­sis­sippi State and then he was at A&M as as­so­ciate head coach and he’s got some tremen­dous play­ers over there. It’s an ex­pe­ri­enced team, ver­sus our team, which is an in­ex­pe­ri­enced team. It’s go­ing to be about wills and tempo and who can get the tempo to their lik­ing.”

Taveion leads the Hill­top­pers in scor­ing with 17.3 points per game. He is shoot­ing 14 of 32, 43.8 per­cent, on 3-point­ers.

Small for­ward Jared Sav­age ranks sec­ond on the team at 14.1 points per game. Bassey is the team’s third-lead­ing scorer.

Arkansas is fa­mil­iar with West­ern Ken­tucky’s fourth-lead­ing scorer, grad­u­ate trans­fer guard Desean Mur­ray. The grad­u­ate trans­fer from Auburn scored 15 points against the Razorbacks in an 88-77 vic­tory for the Tigers last sea­son in Auburn, Ala.

Mur­ray only scored three points when Arkansas won, 91-82, in the SEC re­match at Bud Wal­ton. He is av­er­ag­ing 10.9 points per game this sea­son.

An­der­son said Colorado State was too de­ter­mined to stop Gaf­ford in­side that the Rams left the perime­ter open for Arkansas’ guards. Sopho­more Ma­son Jones hit 4 of 8 3-point­ers to fin­ish with 16 points, fresh­man Isa­iah Joe was

4-for-9 on threes and fin­ished with 14 points, and fresh­man Keyshawn Em­bery-Simp­son scored a ca­reer-high 14 points on 4-for-5 shoot­ing from dis­tance off of the bench.

Re­serve for­wards Os­abuo­hien and fresh­man Reg­gie Chaney got it go­ing for the Hogs in­side as Gaf­ford sat for the fi­nal 8:07 of the first half with two fouls. Gaf­ford scored 10 of his 12 points in the sec­ond half. Chaney scored

11 points in 19 min­utes and Os­abuo­hien fin­ished with five points and five boards in nine min­utes.

An­der­son said he was im­pressed with how Arkansas made 28 as­sists out of 38 field goals. Sopho­more point guard Jalen Harris dished out a dozen as­sists against just two turnovers.

“More and more, he’s tak­ing com­mand out there,” An­der­son said. “Twenty-eight as­sists on 38 field goals. That’s trust­ing one an­other.”

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