FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said he was being nice during his team’s 99-82 win against Missouri Southern last Friday.
He let everyone on the roster play in the first exhibition game.
“Next game it may not be as generous in terms of playing time,” Anderson said. “So you’ve got to earn it. You’ve got to earn it every day in practice.”
Anderson said he plans to turn to more of his “core” players when the Razorbacks return to the court to face Northeastern State in Bud Walton Arena at 7 p.m. tonight.
The exhibition is Arkansas’ final tune-up before Friday night’s season opener against SIU-Edwardsville, giving the Razorbacks one more chance to sort through their roster and rotations before games begin to count.
So forward Alandise Harris said Arkansas must take advantage of it.
“He’s just trying to see who brings what when the lights come on,” Harris said about Anderson’s exhibition plans after last Friday’s win. “That’s all he wants to see.”
The first exhibition game gave Anderson a few ideas.
One area of intrigue is the potential in the frontcourt with athletic forwards like Harris, Bobby Portis and Coty Clarke. The three were dominant at times together in the exhibition opener, combining to record 37 points and 22 rebounds.
Not bad considering it was the first time the trio had started together.
Anderson said he wanted to see what they’d look like right away and they were “clicking on some cylinders.” But he also said there was one concern.
“I think fatigue came in,” Anderson said. “One thing about guys that size, they’re going to get tired. And when you’re playing up-tempo basketball, pressure defense, it takes one guy to be that weak link. I thought therefore you saw Missouri Southern get some easy buckets when guys tired out.”
The Razorbacks will play without junior Ky Madden — who is serving a three-game suspension — once again. The guard will miss tonight’s game and the season opener for violating team rules.
Arkansas worked through the point guard’s absence in the exhibition opener and had 22 assists on 32 baskets. But Anderson said there’s plenty of room for improvement in his backcourt, which made some careless mistakes on offense and had some trouble slowing Missouri Southern’s dribble penetration on the other end.
“We’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Arkansas guard Anthlon Bell said.
Harris added that Arkansas’ defensive rotations must improve as well.
“We’ve got to help more on the defensive end and stay solid with our pressure on the ball without fouling so it will turn into some easy transition points,” Harris said. “We want to get up and down.”
Arkansas shot 45.7 percent in its exhibition opener, but Anderson said he wasn’t concerned about the offense. His attention is on defensive improvement after Missouri Southern shot 43.4 percent and collected 15 offensive rebounds.
“We’re going to be able to score,” Anderson said. “So in my mind, our defense has got to really get better. And how do you get your defense better? Well, you get the right mix of guys out there. … We’ll play with it and see how it works out.”
Anderson, who described guard Michael Qualls as an “energy guy,” said the sophomore may step into the starting lineup tonight. He finished with 9 points, 3 assists and 2 blocks in 23 minutes against Missouri Southern.
There could be other changes as well.
It’s the final exhibition game and the last chance for Arkansas to get a good look at its roster before the season opener. Anderson plans to take advantage of it.
“That’s my key right now,” Anderson said. “I’m figuring out some things. Who are going to be the core guys for our basketball team?”