Courtesy Arkansas athletics
Arkansas guard CJ Jones was good offensively Saturday.

Book it, Hogs! Arkansas beats Alabama and all but ensures itself of NCAA bid

Eric Bolin

What Mike Anderson has done with the Arkansas basketball team this year should not be discounted. In a season the SEC is as good as it has been in 10-plus years, Anderson has the Razorbacks at 20 wins and all but assured of an NCAA Tournament.

The selection committee is going to have a difficult time keeping Arkansas out of the Dance with the Hogs’ resume. Their beating of Alabama, another team likely to make the NCAA Tournament, on Saturday, 76-73, the latest in a season filled with more resume positives than negatives.

Wasn’t easy but no one expected it to be in the SEC.

Anderson’s bench was balanced, his freshman big man Daniel Gafford was tenacious and his two best players, had a flurry to put away Alabama near the end. Probably wasn’t the prettiest game the Razorbacks played all year, but given circumstances and stakes, it was perhaps one of the best.

Alabama had a lead for most of the second half. With 6:53 left, the Crimson Tide led by one. Barford hadn’t made a field goal since three minutes into the game. He found himself wide open, though, on the wing and buried a 3. After the Crimson Tide failed to score, Macon went down on Arkansas’ end and hit another. A quick 6-0 run put the Hogs back into the position they were for most of the opening 20 minutes – ahead by a couple possessions.

Alabama didn’t answer and, in fact, let Arkansas keep piling on. Gafford’s dunk led the teams into the under-4 timeout with the Razorbacks ahead by eight. It was their largest lead of the half and came in the midst of a 1 for 7 stretch for Alabama.

The win keeps the Razorbacks (20-9, 9-7) in a tie for third place in the SEC with two games left. It was significant, too, as Auburn – the SEC leaders – come next, followed by a road game at Missouri to finish the regular season. The Crimson Tide (17-12, 8-8) have lost three straight now.

Macon finished with a team-high 15 points. Barford had 10, Gafford 11, Dustin Thomas 11 and CJ Jones, off the bench, added 13. Alabama had four players in double figures, too, but had just 11 bench points to Arkansas’ 22.

The highlight

Arkansas had eight players score and picked up a six-rebound, five-assist game from Trey Thompson on top of it. The team that used to rely on the Macon-Barford-Gafford combination has recieved superb perfromances from role players most of the last three weeks.

The lowlight

A bit of difficulty, per usual, defending the 3-pointer. Alabama made 10 as a team not normally known as that strong from the perimeter.

What’s next for Arkansas?

Arkansas returns home for a chance to knock off the SEC leaders. Auburn visits Bud Walton Arena on Tuesday in the penultimate game in the SEC’s regular season.