FAYETTEVILLE —Arkansas guard BJ Young went to LSU expecting a bounce back performance after going 0-for-8 from the field in last Saturday’s loss at Florida.
The sophomore didn’t go without a field goal once again Wednesday night.
But he didn’t exactly snap out of his slump during Arkansas’ 65-60 loss.
Young was held well below his season average of 15.3 points, scoring four points on 2 of 11 shooting in the Maravich Assembly Center. The guard started Wednesday’s game on the bench for a change of pace, but he failed to reach double figures for the third straight game and eighth time this season.
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said Wednesday it’s clear Young’s confidence has been jolted as the Razorbacks (17-11, 8-7 in Southeastern Conference) prepare for Saturday’s game against Kentucky (20-8, 11-4 in SEC) in Bud Walton Arena. He has scored 7 points on 2 of 19 shooting the past two games.
“BJ puts a lot more pressure on himself than he needs to,” Anderson said. “That’s part of it. And as a coach, you try to take away those pressures and just let him go out and be a kid. He’s 19 years old. Go out and play basketball and have fun. That’s been my mindset with him from day one through last year, through this year. It will be the same. Hopefully he gets back to being BJ, the happy go-lucky kid.”
Young explored the NBA Draft after averaging 15.3 points a game as a freshman, but opted to return to Arkansas. His sophomore season hasn’t been a smooth ride.
There have been big moments. Young scored 25 in a home win against Tennessee and Arkansas’ only road win at Auburn. He also turned in game-winning plays down the stretch against Missouri and Georgia, leading the Razorbacks to two-point wins.
But Young also has been plagued all year by poor shooting.
Young is making 44.4 percent from the field (157 of 354) and 21.9 percent (21 of 96 from behind the 3-point line. It comes a year after he made 50.4 percent (177 of 351) of his shots and 41.3 percent (50 of 121) from 3-point range as a freshman.
Arkansas players weren’t available for comment Thursday, but Young said earlier this week the shooting struggles are “frustrating.” Especially when the Hogs lose.
“If we would have won, I would have been just fine,” Young said Monday. “But we lost, so yeah, it’s frustrating. But it’s not something I’m going to dwell on, because I really can’t change it. I’ve just got to move on to the next game.”
Anderson said Young was hesitant pulling the trigger at LSU, going 0-for-4 from behind the 3-point line. He is 0-for-10 from long range the past three games with defenses geared to give him those open looks because of his shooting struggles.
“He’s got to be able to knock shots down,” Anderson said. “That, to me, is different than last year. Last year he shot over 40 percent from 3-point land and this year has hasn’t shot near as good as he is capable of shooting.”
Young also has had some decision-making issues to compound the shooting woes, pressing too much with the ball. He has opted to take on opponents with defenders swarming him and it has resulted in turnovers and other mistakes.
Young committed a season-high tying six turnovers at LSU and has nine in the past two games. He has just three assists during the same stretch.
“People are targeting him,” Anderson said about the difference this season. “That’s a big part of it too. As they target you, that’s where you have to trust in your teammates and those other teammates have got to make plays as well.”
Young’s play will continue to be an important factor in Arkansas’ success the final three regular season game and in the NCAA Tournament. He leads the Hogs in points (15.3), minutes (28.5), free throws made (77) and assists (3.7) a game.
The production is enough to make Young take another long look at the NBA Draft after the season. But Anderson hopes the guard can snap out of his shooting slump and help the Razorbacks win games — beginning Saturday against Kentucky — first.
“He’s hearing a lot of different stuff from different people,” Anderson said about Young’s future. “You’ve got to try to keep him grounded and stay in the now. I think you’ve got to stay in the now. Right now. You can’t worry about the future because it may not even come. Just try to be the best player you can be.”
Why No Bell?
Arkansas guard Anthlon Bell scored 31 points in consecutive games against Georgia and Florida, showing off his long-range shooting abilities. But the freshman — who Anderson proclaimed was ready to play now after early-season struggles — mysteriously sat on the bench throughout most of the LSU loss.
Bell was scoreless, getting off just one shot, in three minutes Wednesday night.
Anderson placed the blame on himself for failing to turn to Bell more.
“I probably screwed that up more than anything else,” Anderson said. “He’s been playing with a lot of confidence. We had some guys that were knocking some shots down early for us, Kikko (Haydar) was knocking some shots down early for us. Anthlon got out there, and I think it was a period where, boy, they just bombarded us. A lead that went from maybe nine points up to almost 18, 20 points.”
Anderson said that will change when the Razorbacks play Kentucky on Saturday.
“You’ll see him,” Anderson said. “You’ll see him in the lineup. You’ll see him playing.”
Arkansas will play in front of a sellout crowd in Bud Walton Arena for the second time this season. The 73-71 win against Missouri also was sold out.
Anderson expects a great atmosphere even though Arkansas has lost two straight.
“We’ve been pretty good at home,” said Anderson, whose team is 15-1 in Bud Walton Arena. “Fans have been great at home. Our kids have played well at home and we’ll see how we respond. I think our guys are excited about playing.”