Believe it or not, the North Texas game wasn’t televised in California. So, I asked my dad—Little Rock resident, Razorback fan, and former freshman sensation on the Vanderbilt University basketball team—to share his observations from having attended the tussle at Alltel. Here’s his report.
In their first game since the season-changing victory over fourth-ranked Oklahoma, the Hogs took on North Texas at Alltel Arena in Little Rock. This site has not seen stellar play by the Hogs of late, as they lost at Alltel last year to Appalachian State and to Bobby Knight’s Texas Tech Red Raiders the year before.
Fans outside were holding up fingers looking for tickets as we entered, and the inside of the arena was packed to the hilt. The Hogs seemed cocky as the game got underway, and they jumped out to an early 9-3 lead, but North Texas was calm and ran their patterns with patience. They always seemed to get open looks for their shots, most of which they hit. They were small, but athletic and disciplined.
Meanwhile, the Razorbacks looked sloppy and were forcing shots on offense, missing most of them. After playing all-world in the Oklahoma game, Courtney Fortson turned the ball over several times and missed all but one of his patented spinning off-balance shots in the paint in the first half. North Texas scored 15 unanswered points during this stretch to take a 35-27 lead, much to the dismay of the fans.
Coach Pelphrey and crew then turned up the defensive intensity a full notch with half-court traps and full-court pressing, and by halftime, the Hogs were only down 42-40. THE MAN for the Hogs in this half was Michael Washington, who had 20 points, many boards, and was hitting his charity stripe shots.
In the second half, things remained tight for a while as the game progressed to 53-53, but then the Hogs caught on fire and the place became bedlam as the Razorbacks went on a run to take a 16-point lead. Again, Washington was the finisher and had scored 30 points just eight minutes into the second half. Fortson settled down and his assists were flowing, along with several incredible double-pumping drives for scores.
The play of the game: Courtney drove into the paint and spun 90 degrees in the air to his right. While looking at two Razorbacks on the right whom everyone thought one would receive the pass, he blindly flipped the ball backward over his shoulder to Washington on the left, who delivered a thunderous jam. The house came down, and the decibel level was as wild as during the Hogs’ heyday.
We coasted from there to the victory. Courtney missed a lot of free throws in this game...we’ll need those in games down the line when the competition gets bigger and tougher, especially since he’s the man who’ll be handling the ball. Stefan Welsh continued his accurate marksmanship from three-point land and from the free throw line as well.
Rotnei Clarke hit some nice treys and played hard-nosed hustling ball. Marcus Monk’s output wasn’t as amazing today as in the Oklahoma game, but he was solid and continues to hit his free throws. Michael Sanchez had a quiet game, getting outrebounded by the smaller but quicker opposition.
All in all, the Hogs are improving and doing way better than most of us thought they would at this stage. They’re playing hard, tough, and scrappy (though not always smart). Hog hoops is on the rise again!