FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Mike Anderson didn’t want to talk any more about it. Manny Watkins demurred. Dusty Hannahs didn’t speak a word. Seemed like everyone around the Arkansas basketball team is done with Kentucky.
They’re not just done with Kentucky, but with everything surrounding that game — Zimmerman, throat slashes, hard fouls, Dick Vitale — no more. Vague references were brought up during the players’ and Anderson’s availability Tuesday, little else. Bygones and all that.
Tuesday was the first time Anderson was asked by local media about what moved him to say what he said on the Paul Finebaum Show on Tuesday. He paused before answering.
“I’m past that now. We’re talking about Seton Hall right now,” Anderson said. “I said what I said. You can talk about me, but my kids, we’ve got some good kids here and they’re doing the right things. I had a chance to talk to Dick Vitale and we’re on the same page. We’ve turned that page. Let’s move forward.”
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Anderson won hearts and minds of the last remaining few who might not have been with him in Razorbacks country with his remarks toward Vitale. But he isn’t the only one ready to leave it be.
The grandest coincidence Tuesday was Watkins’ answer to the very first question of the media event. Watkins is a smart guy and the best talker on the team. He’s choosy with his words.
So when he was asked how preparing for the NCAA Tournament was different than preparing for the SEC Tournament or any other game, he almost certainly said what he did on purpose.
“When you get too emotional for a certain game, that can be bad for you,” he said.
That was clearly the case against Kentucky on Sunday. It shouldn’t be against Seton Hall. Even a measure of nervousness from the NCAA Tournament — the first for everyone on the roster except Watkins, guard Anton Beard and big man Moses Kingsley — can’t compare to the overwhelming emotions that seeped through against the Wildcats.
A team that had various emotional reactions this season hadn’t come near having anything as pronounced as Sunday. Accordingly, there’s a reason to believe Friday won’t be a repeat. Add on to that the players saying it’s not going to happen again, and you almost have to take their word for it.
And why not.
Arkansas will clearly be playing with something to prove come Friday. Whether it’s carryover from Sunday or something independent — or a mixture of both — no one knows. Emotions can’t be quantified. But this isn’t a team on its last legs. It’s a team that heard mostly negativity about its attitude and style for the past two days.
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It’s a team staying out of its feelings.
“We’re past it,” Watkins said. “We’re moving on to Seton Hall and this NCAA Tournament because we’re trying to win a national championship. That’s the goal.”
Arkansas is a No. 8 seed in the South Region. It faces Seton Hall at 1:30 p.m. ET Friday in Greenville, S.C. A victory would put the Razorbacks in a likely second-round game against No. 1 seed North Carolina.