FAYETTEVILLE — Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings feels for Arkansas’ Mike Anderson.
He can’t recall coaching a team during through three straight overtime games during his long career. But Stallings said Monday he can guess what it must be like.
“That’s obviously very unusual, and it’s almost cruel and unusual punishment,” Stallings said. “But it might be the nature of the competitive balance of this league and there might be a lot of overtime games. I don’t know. I don’t recall ever having three straight of my own. I don’t even know what to think about it. …
“I hope Mike’s holding up well.”
Anderson wants his team to be known for playing the fastest 40 minutes in basketball, but that moniker wouldn’t apply lately. Instead, Arkansas has been pressed to 45 minutes in overtime games against Florida, Kentucky and Georgia.
It’s the first time the Razorbacks have played in three straight overtime games and the unusual circumstance has Arkansas on the verge of equaling an NCAA record if it happens again at Tennessee on Wednesday night. Jacksonville (1988), Illinois State (1985), Dayton (1988) and Maryland Baltimore County (2013) are the only Division I programs who have ever played four consecutive overtime games.
Arkansas is 1-2 in the overtime games with its most recent loss — the 66-61 stumble at Georgia — proving to be the most frustrating. But Anderson said Monday he still sees growth in his team with each overtime period it plays.
“It shows our resiliency, I think, more than anything else,” Anderson said. “Now we’ve just got to figure out the little things that it will take us to get us over the hump. Our guys are competing. They’re fighting.”
The three games have been played over an eight-day stretch, which raises the question: how is Arkansas handling it physically and emotionally? Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin doesn’t believe the Razorbacks are having any issues.
“When you come off a loss, you want to get back on the floor and play as soon as possible, so I don’t think that will affect those guys,” Martin said. “ I think when you come off losses like that, they’re emotional, so you’ve got to bounce back from that. … They run 11 deep. They’ll be ready and have fresh legs.
“That’s the great thing about when you play 11 guys that are very effective. You still have fresh legs as opposed to maybe five or six guys that can get bogged down.”
Arkansas does rely on its depth. The Razorbacks have played at least 12 players in each game. Michael Qualls has played the most during the stretch, logging 39 minutes against Kentucky and averaging 35 during the three overtime games.
But Arkansas’ bigger problem has been finding ways to finish off opponents in either regulation or overtime. The Razorbacks had a seven-point lead in the second half of each game. They were pressed to overtime anyway.
Florida and Kentucky each made buckets late to tie the Razorbacks and force the extra period. Arkansas, meanwhile, couldn’t produce points on the last possession at Georgia, which pushed another game into overtime.
“We’ve got to finish,” Anderson said. “The Georgia game we were closer. I think you can look at the stats and they say one thing, but if you watch the game we actually were in position to finish the game off whether it be free throws, keeping them off the line. Our defense has been, I think, good enough. But offensively we’ve had some big lulls. So we’ve got to shore that up.”
The only Arkansas team that has been through a similar stretch was the 1994-95 group, which went to overtime three times in four games during postseason play.
It began with a 95-93 overtime loss to Kentucky in the SEC Tournament. Then, after an opening round NCAA Tournament win a few days later, the Razorbacks needed overtime to beat Syracuse (96-94) and Memphis (96-91) to reach the Elite Eight.
Arkansas is a long way from battling through overtimes to advance in the NCAA Tournament. But Anderson is hopeful the experiences the past three games will help his team’s growth as Arkansas continues to work through conference play.
“Hopefully we’re learning,” Anderson said. “I think that’s the key. You’ve got to learn how to win.”