Jimmy Dykes Lays Blame Absolutely Where It Should Go for Arkansas vs Alabama

Eric Musselman
Craven Whitlow

It’s easy to spotlight a few moments late in Arkansas vs Alabama that directly led to the Hogs’ ultimate 88-92 demise to the hands of the No. 16 Crimson Tide.

At the end of regulation, with the game notched at 72 with 22 seconds left, Khalif Battle drove to the rim to drop off a pass for a would-be flush by Makhi Mitchell, who was having himself a helluva game.

Mitchell went up to dunk it but the ball rimmed out in a thicket of Alabama defenders, following enough body contact where a calling a foul there would have been justifiable. Certainly, Arkansas sportscaster Mike Irwin feels it should been called.

“That no call decided the game,” he posted. “A dunk would have put the Hogs up five with about :30 to play. With the no call Bama went down the floor and hit a three to tie the game….”

Arkansas basketball coach Eric Musselman, for his part, said he saw Alabama big man Nick Pringle make contact with Mitchell.

“It’s not worth sending things in [to the SEC office],” he added. “Alabama beat us, no excuses. But there was contact with Khi.”

“What are they going to tell us? That after reviewing it we’ll find out tomorrow that it was missed. But it doesn’t change the outcome of the game.”

On Arkansas’ next possession following that missed dunk, Battle decided to rise up for a three-point attempt instead of driving to the rim to try to draw an attempt from the free throw line, where he was perfect Saturday on his way to 22 points. That attempt fell short, barely grazing the side of the rim.

“There was no need for the three,” Musselman said. “He made a read, and you live with that as a coach. Don’t want to the blame on the shot or any one play certainly.”

“But we had the ball in the guys’ hands we wanted, running the clock down. Because he was 11 of 11 from the foul line, we certainly would have preferred a dribble drive and to try to see if we could score in zone one.”

Then, in overtime with the Hogs down by 2 with a minute remaining, a miscommunication on defense led to a wide-open alley oop flush by Pringle that gave the Crimson Tide the buffer they’d need the rest of the way.

Referees Are Convenient Excuse for Arkansas vs Alabama Outcome

But don’t lay a lion’s share of the blame at the feet of a random miscommunication here, or a missed foul there. Those happen in most basketball games, to most teams. They are unavoidable and just part of life.

No, the real turning point in the game came with about 6 minutes left in the second half with the Hogs up 64-59. Until that point, Arkansas had mostly put the muzzle on Aaron Estrada, one of Alabama’s two lead guards and most dangerous scorers. For some inexplicable reason, however, some Razorbacks decided to let their guard down and allow Estrada to waltz to the basket on back to back possessions.

In the first, Tramon Mark played matador defense and allowed Estrada to easily blow by him for the layup. No hard foul. No attempt to rip the ball or block it. Nothing.

That cut the game to 64-61 and then, improbably, Arkansas suffered a case of extreme short-term amnesia and decided to let Estrada pass through unimpeded once again. This time is was more of a multi-player letdown as he dribbled past and two-stepped his way for another two-pointer.

ESPN commentator Jimmy Dykes, the former Arkansas basketball coach on the women’s side, immediately pointed the finger at who is to blame: “Those last two baskets by Alabama, that’s all on Arkansas. Not building a wall, not stopping the ball.”

Don’t let the box score fool you. Yes, Arkansas held Estrada to 4 of 14 shooting on the night overall, including 0 for 5, which seems like an overall win for the defense. But the maddening lack of defensive consistency that Arkansas has suffered most of the season reared its ugly head yet again and those two easy made field goals ending up making a huge difference.

Had Arkansas defenders put real effort into an attempt to stop Estrada in either case, then the apparent missed foul on Mitchell later in the game wouldn’t have mattered so much.

No question, the Razorbacks have improved a lot since the early to middle part of the SEC season. Yet the difference between a bad team and a good one often comes down to consistency, not only game in and game out – but within a single game. Arkansas played well enough to beat the Crimson Tide for 39 out of 40 regulation minutes.

For a single minute, it took its eye off the ball.

And that proved to be the difference.

More from Musselman on Arkansas vs Alabama

On playing through Battle and Mitchell:

“They’re playing a really good two-man game and we have to clean up our turnovers, certainly. I mean, we had 10 between those two guys, which we’re putting the ball in their hands and 16 turnovers as a unit, we’ve certainly got to clean that up. But those two guys playing off the elbows and playing in pick-and-rolls have been a hard cover for the opposing teams, whoever we’ve played.”

On Aaron Estrada’s play:

“He’s a great player. He went 4-for-14. He went 0-for-5 from three. I thought we did a phenomenal job. He had five turnovers. He made some big plays down the stretch. He’s a good player, and you’re not going to be able to, I mean, if you hold a guy to 4-for-14, whenever he scores, whether it’s down the stretch.”

“I mean, we did a really good job. It’s hard to do much more than hold a guy to 4-for-14 and there’s five turnovers. I don’t know how we could have done a better job, but he did make some big baskets down the stretch, which is what great players do.”

Those big buckets around the 6:00 minute mark, unfortunately, had a lot less do to with Estrada’s own abilities than they were due to such a costly letdown on consecutive possessions by the Razorbacks.

On Latrell Wrightsell’s play:

“Well, he’s a great three-point shooter. It’s a great signing by Alabama as a transfer. He can make shots, and coming from Cal State Fullerton, he’s a guy that shoots it with confidence, and he made two that were really, really clutch for them. I thought we guarded the three-point line, followed the gameplan really well until maybe the last minute-and-a-half of the game. And then in overtime, we slipped up on not making certain guys floor it, and that’s the difference in a four-point game.”

On Arkansas vs Vanderbilt on Wednesday:

“They’re well-coached. They understand their roles. They have three stars. We have to do a much better job on their center than we did last game. We’ve got to do a much better job on their two guards, Manjon and T Lawrence, and then you’ve got to take away the three with the other guys. That would be some of the game plan stuff we’ve got to do and we’ve got to play much better than we did last game against Vanderbilt.”

Arkansas vs Alabama LIVE UPDATES

15:45, 1H – Arkansas 8, Alabama 2

Tramon Mark is feeling it going to the basket early and Brazile has put up four points on a nice sprint out and lay up. Khalif Battle is helping put pressure on Alabama big man Grant Nelson, who now has a foul.

13:08, 1H – Arkansas 15, Alabama 6

Hogs held Bama to making only one of their first five field goal attempts and are starting to really cook on offense.

Mahki Mitchell scored on a nice roll with Ellis for a layup – but on the next trip down there is miscommunication bt/ the two leading to an errant pass by Ellis. Khalif Battle shows great anticipation stealing the ball near the Alabama basket, then immediately converts that into a corner three swish.

8:56, 1H – Arkansas 28, Alabama 16

The hot start continues as El Ellis completes a whirling dervish layup down the gut of the Alabama defense. Arkansas has made a sizzling 11 of its first 16 shot attempts for a 69% shooting clip.

Mitchell has been especially active early. He completed a couple of rolls with layups and a had very impressive series where he swallowed up a Mark Sears layup attempt and then bolted to the opposite side of the court where he got fouled (although he did miss both free throws).

3:45, 1H – Arkansas 38, Alabama 32

Alabama has come roaring back thanks to a couple of three-pointers by Sears (who’s 3-3 from deep) a driving layup by Latrell Wrightsell.

Arkansas still has a 22-12 advantage in points in the paint but the, ahem, Tide is turning on this front. Alabama is also blocking quite a few balls by Arkansas, which is turning it over at a more rapid pace in the latter part of the first half.

Halftime Arkansas 42, Alabama 36

Impressively, Arkansas has kept Aaron Estrada, one of Alabama’s main weapons, scoreless. But Sears is heating up and looks capable of shouldering the load. He did bump knees with Battle late in the half and looks a bit gimpy on the court, so it will be worth monitoring how well he can move in the second half.

16:17, 2H – Arkansas 47, Alabama 40

Tramon Mark got called for his third foul with 18:20 left and heads to the bench with 6 points.

A few minutes later, El Ellis airballs a three-pointer but then immediately makes up for it by drawing an offensive foul on Grant Nelson on the other side. He then hits a floater on the Razorbacks’ next trip down.

13:05, 2H – Arkansas 49, Alabama 46

Makhi Mitchell’s strength and positioning on the boards have put Grant Nelson in foul trouble with 4 fouls and helped put Arkansas in the bonus early on. He drew three fouls on Alabama in just about a minute of game time and cashed in a couple of free throws.

Aaron Estrada finally got on the board with a layup nearly 7 minutes into the second half after missing his first five field goal attempts.

8:15, 2H – Arkansas 60, Alabama 56

Battle’s jumper stops an 8-0 run by Alabama, but the Crimson Tide have been heating up behind Sears’ shooting. Arkansas’ foul shooting is helping it keep the lead in this one has it started just 2 of 12 shooting in the second half but hit all of its first nine free throw attempts.

Davenport has scored five points in the last few minutes, including a corkscrew driving layup with his left hand on man-to-man defense.

1:55, 2H – Arkansas 74, Alabama 68

Arkansas’ bigs are really going to work. Both Makhi Mitchell and Trevon Brazile have scored going directly at Grant Nelson, who’s playing with four fouls. That Brazile bucket was off an aggressive driving baseline floater, more in line with what Arkansas basketball fans saw from him last season vs throughout this disappointing campaign.

“This is the best version of Brazile I’ve seen all year,” ESPN commenter Jimmy Dykes said.

Both bigs have been playing well on defense, too. Arkansas got its previous basket on two free throws by Khalf Battle, who was fouled on a fast break push triggered by a Mitchell block. Brazile, meanwhile, blocked a Sears layup attempt after the aforementioned floater.

End of Regulation – Arkansas 74, Alabama 74

Grant Nelson hit a three over Brazile to cut the lead to three points and, on the other side, a Mitchell dunk in heavy traffic bounced out and ultimately led to a Wrightsell step-back three for Alabama.

Battle walked the ball up the court but, instead of driving on man on man defense, shot a three point attempt in the waning seconds that fell well short off the front of the rim.

1:38, Overtime – Arkansas 80, Alabama 84

A couple of layups by Estrada and Sears have opened things up for the Crimson Tide in an overtime that Alabama has mostly won.

Earlier, the difference-maker for Alabama was Sam Walters. He gave Alabama a 78-76 lead by hitting his first three in five games after missing his first three three-point attempts this game. On a possession soon after that, he got an offensive rebound and dropped it back in to keep the Hogs at bay.

1:38, Overtime – Arkansas 88, Alabama 92

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