FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas basketball guards B.J. Young, Mardracus Wade, Julysses Nobles and Ky Madden are four of the Razorbacks' top five free-throw shooters.
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas basketball guards B.J. Young, Mardracus Wade, Julysses Nobles and Ky Madden are four of the Razorbacks’ top five free-throw shooters.
But the four have one puzzling trait in common the past week. Each has missed one-and-one free-throw attempts in the closing seconds of tight games.
None of the misses cost the Razorbacks (15-5, 3-2 in Southeastern Conference) in a pair of home wins against Michigan and Auburn. But it’s a fine line Arkansas coach Mike Anderson doesn’t want his team to continue walking as it prepares to play at Alabama (13-7, 2-4 in SEC) on Saturday.
“They’ve just got to be able to just go up and knock them down,” Anderson said. “Especially when it really, really counts. You want them to make all their free throws, but especially when it counts.”
Young and Nobles missed opportunities with Arkansas clinging to a 66-64 lead against Michigan, which gave the Wolverines one last chance to win the game at the buzzer. Madden and Wade repeated the feat Wednesday night, allowing Auburn one more opportunity to tie the game in the final seconds.
Anderson credited his team for making sure the ball was in the right player’s hands with Michigan and Auburn committing fouls to stop the clock. But Arkansas’ top free-throw shooters haven’t come through with a chance to eliminate any late drama.
“We have to do a better job making our free throws as a team to close out these games a little bit easier,” Young said after the Auburn win.
Arkansas is shooting 68.6 percent from the free-throw line, which ranks seventh in the SEC.
The Razorbacks made 12 of 19 attempts in the Auburn win and were 13-for-21 against Michigan.
The late free throws didn’t go down, but Arkansas does deserve credit for making other key plays to win both games. Two examples: Young ran a well-timed pick-and-roll with forward Hunter Mickelson to help the Hogs beat Michigan. Madden grabbed a key offensive rebound to help Arkansas keep possession and use more clock against Auburn.
So Anderson — whose players shoot 500 free throws a week — said the Hogs must learn how to put the finishing touches on close games at the line.
“That’s part of the process in learning how to win,” Anderson said. “The way you close out games is you’ve got to be able to put people away. …
“I think they’ll get better.”
Waithe Still Out
Marvell Waithe will travel with the team to Alabama, but Anderson said the forward will likely miss his second straight game with a strained calf.
“It’s real doubtful he’ll play,” Anderson said.
Waithe is averaging 6.3 points and 3.2 rebounds this season. He had been at his best just before the injury, though, averaging 9 points and shooting a team-high 55.6 percent in four SEC games.
“When you lose a guy like that, it kind of throws you into another tailspin,” Anderson said. “How do you make up for it? … We’re just trying to get other guys to step up. There will be times when we’ll be small. But, hopefully we’ll be effective.”
Arkansas quarterback Brandon Mitchell sat on the bench one more game Wednesday night. But Anderson said the Razorbacks were close to playing him.
“We tried to get him in there (Wednesday) night and just, just didn’t have an opportunity,” Anderson said. “If there’s an opportunity we’ll get him in there. He’s a big, strong body. He’s athletic. We’ll see what he can do.”
Anderson said Mitchell — who joined the team last week — has participated in a handful of practices and is showing how he can help the Razorbacks.
“He’s got a good basketball IQ,” Anderson said. “He’s a strong and athletic kid. I think he can rebound the basketball. I think he can get in there and push a little bit. He’s strong for his size.”