Arkansas-Florida Game Notes, March 12, 2009
· Florida improves to 23-9, while Arkansas falls to 14-16.
· John Pelphrey is now 2-2 in the SEC Tournament.
· This was the third time in the last four years these two teams have met in the SEC Tournament, and Florida has won all three.
· Arkansas made just 4-of-9 free throws in the game for a season low made total. The previous mark was six made free throws at both Auburn on Feb. 11 and Alabama on Feb. 25.
· Michael Washington led Arkansas with a career-high 18 rebounds to go with a team-high 15 points. Washington’s previous rebounding high was 15 on Jan. 10 against Mississippi State.
COACH PELPHREY: I thought that certainly Florida played better than us. There was a stretch there in the second half. Certainly wish them well. Good basketball team. I thought from our side of it that we competed. It was a lot like a lot of the games in the Southeastern Conference play we had.
I think there was a stretch there in the second half. I think we tied it twice. But we missed some opportunities offensively. Couple of turnovers. Second chance points, even though they only had two more offensive rebounds than we did, they were costly. The three point shots led to scores.
So we’ve got a gap there, couldn’t overcome it. I thought these two guys here, I thought Mike had an unbelievable game rebounding the basketball. He’s done that all year for us. I’m very, very proud of what he’s been able to do. Certainly our freshmen have had a big impact on our team. And Rot’s one of those. So just didn’t play well enough.
CLAUDE FELTON: Questions for the student athletes.
Q. I think Marcus had a three to make it 39 38, and then Florida went on a 10 0 run. I’m wondering, from your standpoint, what was happening that kind of helped Florida get that gap John was talking about? It was a one point game, 39 38, and Florida went on a 10 0 run to get an 11 point lead. I was wondering from your standpoint what they were doing to get that lead and have that 10 0 run?
MICHAEL WASHINGTON: Basically, I think we weren’t playing defense, you know good enough. We could have put more effort on defense. That’s what I think when they got that run.
ROTNEI CLARKE: Yeah, same thing Mike said. They executed well from that point. I know we missed a couple of plays. We didn’t communicate, holding and switching on some down screens and cross screens. That led to open shots for them. Then they just executed well, and we missed a couple of opportunities.
Q. You guys, another game where you were tied or had a chance to take the lead in the second half. You had so many of those this year. Where do you think you go moving forward with such a young team? How do you kind of close the gap there and be able to close out games in the second half coming up next year?
MICHAEL WASHINGTON: Basically just like I said. At first, defense. You know, get better at defense. I believe we can close it up by doing that.
ROTNEI CLARKE: We had so many games this year including this one that we were in down the stretch. I think it’s not being able to well, obviously defense. But it’s not that we couldn’t sustain play and do the things in order that we needed to do to finish the game off.
Q. I think you only had three points in the second half after a pretty good first half. Were they doing anything different or what was the difference do you think?
ROTNEI CLARKE: No, I still got open shots. Almost every one I took was open. My teammates did a good job of finding me in transition or whatever it was. I just couldn’t hit them in the second half.
Q. There’s been speculation about you maybe put your name in the draft. Can you talk about that a little?
MICHAEL WASHINGTON: I ain’t worried about that right now. So basically I’m looking forward to just coming back and getting better with my teammates.
Q. After going through a freshman season, what do you think you learned the most and what was the biggest challenge for you taking the step up to this level? How do you think that will help you move it forward?
ROTNEI CLARKE: Obviously, I need to improve, first of all, defensively. You know, it’s not really the offensive end. There’s still things I need to improve on whether it be reading pick and rolls or whatever it is.
But I got open shots all year, as a credit to my teammates, finding me when I was open, I had a lot of experiences, ups and downs. This definitely isn’t going to cut it.
I know me and my teammates are going to go into the off season and work as hard as we possibly can and guarantee a better season for next year.
Q. I know it’s been a disappointment around here in the SEC, but how disappointing is it to have a season they had? I know you’re hoping to get something done here in Tampa and it didn’t happen.
MICHAEL WASHINGTON: It’s a heartbreaker when you have a great season we thought we’d come up and make a run and get in the big dance, but it was just the downfall.
ROTNEI CLARKE: Any loss is tough, I hate losing with a passion. Everyone on this team does. Including the coaching staff. This one, especially, because it ends our season. I know every person on this team wants a seed in the NCAA Tournament and it didn’t happen. We couldn’t make a run, and it’s tough.
Q. Quite frankly, you seemed a little ticked about the thought of losing. Is this something that you can use to drive yourself heading into the off season?
ROTNEI CLARKE: Definitely. I mean, it’s motivation, but I’d rather be motivated on something else. You know, we can go in, remembering what happened throughout the season, the stretch, this long stretch we had in the SEC. And not let it happen again.
CLAUDE FELTON: We’ll excuse the student athletes.
Q. From your perspective with that 10 0 run you had, like you said gave them the gap. They were getting some turnovers, what do you think was happening?
COACH PELPHREY: I think a couple of things happened. We missed a couple of opportunity’s. We turned it over. They made a couple of baskets. I think the offensive rebound, it was probably a smorgasbord of things that, where we’ve had moments in time. I mean, in the second half where it’s a two or three minute stretch of play, kind of both sides at the same time.
But I think, you know, we were struggling scoring the ball a little bit. I was surprised, it didn’t feel like we shot 46% in the second half. But, probably the turnovers led to that a little bit.
You know, Florida does a good job. They’re so explosive from the offensive side of it. They had 11 steals in the game. You know, that’s something that’s hard to overcome from the offensive side of it.
I mean, if you’re scoring at almost 50% clip with 11 steals, and you’d like to get some of those back and score five or six of them. But I would say there was you more than one thing on there. Probably a couple things on offense and a couple things on defense.
Q. Disappointing season, but do you feel like with all the young talent on this team the experience they have this season that you’re close to getting back to the tourney and where you want to be?
COACH PELPHREY: Well, certainly we’re very excited about the future, the complete confidence and trust where we’re going to be some day. Very, very humbled to be the basketball coach at Arkansas, it’s an unbelievable place to be.
Certainly with who I work for, our administration and the leadership, we know what’s going on, and we know who we are.
Coming into this year we wanted to establish our brand and play hard the system and the style. I thought our team, you know, I appreciate, there’s a level of toughness here.
Obviously, we need to play better, we need to get more pieces. But there is a level of toughness for always coming back, for showing up, competing and putting yourself in a situation where you’ve got a chance. And we understand the outcome is not what it needs to be. And we’ll work hard and we’ll get better.
Q. You talked about adding pieces, what do you need to get in the fall to make a significant step?
COACH PELPHREY: I think in general, bottom line, we have to recruit like everybody else does. As we get into our postseason stuff, we’ll evaluate. We’ll see what we need to do to add to our team in terms of the late signing period. But it’s too early to be evaluating the whole thing yet.
Q. Just listening to Rotnie talk about, he talks a lot about next year and being irritated and the way things went in the conference this year. What does the off season hold for your young team and how do you think they’ll respond from this type of end to the season?
COACH PELPHREY: Obviously, we’ll have a chance to get back and evaluate the whole thing. Tonight we’re dealing with the SEC Tournament. So, I’m sure there’s obviously things going through my mind, there’s things going through their mind. There will probably be more stuff coming to my mind. And stuff that’s on my mind might not be important in a couple of days from now.
But tonight’s obviously about the SEC Tournament. We’ll focus on some of those other things and evaluate and have a chance to take a step back and look at it and see what we need to do to get better.
I think first and foremost, the things we do know is the guys that are here all need to get better. There was some valuable experience given within terms of basically Stef and Mike Wash are the only two guys that played. Others played maybe four, five minutes a game.
Even for those guys, the whole basketball team it’s kind of a first experience for them. And they need to use that to become better basketball players. Any improvement we make is going to be largely on the shoulders of these guys because they were given a wonderful opportunity to compete at a young age.
Q. Talk about Courtney’s game and the job that Florida did on him?
COACH PELPHREY: Yeah, you know, obviously, zone has a tendency to do that a little bit. But I thought he got nice opportunities in there. You know, had uncharacteristic for him, he didn’t finish a couple of them. They got to him probably a little more than we anticipated there with a couple of turnovers in the press. But certainly you could tell it was a concerted effort on their part to try to keep him on the perimeter as much as possible.
Q. With all the experience that the freshmen did get, and so much that was put on the plates of Courtney and Rotnie and some of the other guys. How do you think that experience will help them? It might not have helped this year but moving forward?
COACH PELPHREY: I think it’s going to be invaluable for Courtney and Rotnie. From Brandon and Andre it’s yet to be seen. I think it’s going to be invaluable for a guy like Mike Washington. And, obviously, the rest of those guys, too.
But it needs to be significant. It needs to be significant in their careers and certainly for the University of Arkansas.
Q. Mike was obviously able to stay out of foul trouble. Talk about his game, career highs and boards and 15 points for you?
COACH PELPHREY: He had an outstanding halftime, very, very active. Florida doesn’t have anybody to come at him in terms of some of those things. Though I think they’re getting better there. Tie us has had a very good year.
You know, if you told me we’d had Mike for 35 minutes and he’d get 15 points and 18 rebounds, I would have felt pretty good about that. Just couldn’t defend them well enough in the second half.
53 points is probably too many. 53% from the field is probably too high. Which, in turn, kind of kept us out of transition for some easy baskets.
But I thought his performance was something that we’ve grown accustomed to, and that we like to see.
Q. I know it’s been a tough SEC season, the players alluded to how disappointing it is when you’ve got new life in the tournament. Could you talk about that?
COACH PELPHREY: Well, everybody’s got three seasons. You’ve got non conference schedule, you’ve got your SEC play. Then you’ve got postseason. Postseason for us this year is the SEC Tournament where we had a chance to compete for an automatic qualifier, and this was a big deal.
Probably a little bit of added hope in terms of everybody talked about the league being down or whatever, and there not being a couple of teams that kind of separated them CEFs to a certain degree, and the fact that last year, you know, Georgia was able to get the four games.
So I think all of that played into it. But at the end of the day you can’t play four games, you’ve got to play one. And we understood and had tremendous respect for how good Florida is and what a big challenge that was going to be for us. Tonight it was too much for us to overcome.
CLAUDE FELTON: Coach Donovan, on opening comments on the game.
COACH DONOVAN: Well, yeah, I think to start the game, you know, it certainly appeared offensively. Both teams were a little bit uptight. I thought we settled down in the second half and played a good second half on both ends.
You know, just happy for these guys that they could move on and play again tomorrow and a great opportunity for them to play against, I think, an Auburn team that’s probably as hot and is playing as well as anybody in our league. Very similar to Arkansas. It’s been a while since we’ve last seen them. It will be a lot for our guys to get familiar with it in a very short period of time.
CLAUDE FELTON: Questions for the student athletes.
Q. Talk about the full court pressure that you and Irving Walker applied there that kind of broke the game open in the second half?
WALTER HODGE: I told those guys we have to come with crazy energy in the second half and make them turn the ball over, and we did a great job.
Q. Can you talk a little about your rebounding tonight and matching up with Washington? It seemed like you took to the challenge a little bit.
DAN WERNER: I just focused on boxing out. You know, sometimes Coach was stressing me to go try to get the ball instead of boxing out. After you hit him, go try to get it, and that’s what I’ve been trying to focus on.
Q. I guess guards are closing 39, 38th, and you guys went on a 10 0 run in a little over ten minutes. You guys talk about just leading by one and breaking out to a bigger lead there. What was going on?
DAN WERNER: I think our guys went down and got steals and got foul shots. I think that got guys going. Obviously, when you get shots, if you go down you miss a shot it’s not as big a deal. Because you’re getting more shots and stuff. I would say press and get defensive stops.
WALTER HODGE: We did a great job of getting the stops. And we get the game open.
Q. After last year’s loss to Georgia, any sense of relief this time. It’s a close game, where you guys put it away at the end and are advancing now?
DAN WERNER: I haven’t thought about last year at all. You know, I was just happy for all my teammates and stuff to get this win. I don’t think about that. I’m just worried about this year and what we need to do.
WALTER HODGE: It feels good. It feels good. Just getting the win, you know. And getting those guys excited for the next game.
Q. Just your thoughts on the Auburn game earlier this season, and what you’ll take from it into tomorrow night?
WALTER HODGE: We just have to go back and watch film and make sure we do the right things in the defensive end. Do a better job on the glass.
DAN WERNER: I remember it was a battle. Some guys on our team stepped up and made some big shots. We were fortunate to come out of there with a win. So it’s definitely going to be a big test for us. Hopefully we’re up to the challenge.
Q. Washington had 18 rebounds, I was wondering what’s on his play inside.
DAN WERNER: He’s averaging a double double, so obviously, he hasn’t addressed it against us, it’s been everyone, he’s you a great player. You know, I don’t really worry about him or anything.
Q. Dan, can you talk about the first half? You guys were really struggling with the ball handling. You could have put them away. They weren’t shooting anything. You guys were making shots. Even though you were ahead, was there a little bit of frustration there in the first half?
DAN WERNER: Yeah, kind of. We had some open looks and stuff. And coach was stressing us to get to the rim and get to the paint. If you’re an open shooter, I think a couple of times we came down and just moved the ball without getting inside the paint and shooting threes. We had to get inside and get in touch.
Q. You missed your first three. In past games sometimes you stop shooting. Tonight you didn’t stop shooting, why?
DAN WERNER: I’m not sure. I’ve been shooting after practice and stuff. I think my confidence is up. I feel like every time I shoot it, it’s going in. Even the ones I missed I felt they were right there. You know, if I’m open, I’m going to shoot it.
Q. I think Nick had five turnovers in the first half. Pretty uncharacteristic. Didn’t have any in the second half. Then he talked about how he was kind of struggling, and he seemed to get it together in the second half ball handling wise.
DAN WERNER: Nick’s a great player. You know, a couple of those might not have been his fault. A couple of guys might have dropped passes. I know I dropped one for him when I got to the basket. But you know, most of the time Nick’s not like that, you know. But he came back, bounced back and led our team to win.
WALTER HODGE: I think he did a great job in the second half to make sure everybody was on the same page. And he ran the team good in the second half. We told him in halftime, you know, it’s over. And you have to come in the second half and do the right thing.
Q. Just wanted to talk a little about your upper classmen, and kind of the lift they gave you tonight, both Walter and Dan?
COACH DONOVAN: Yeah, I thought both those guys played well. Certainly for the first half. It was a difficult first half for Nick. I really thought that both teams were anxious and excited to play. The regular season’s over with. I didn’t think that either team shot the ball well.
I can’t tell you that looking at Arkansas’ field goal percentage in the first half with the three point shooting perk. It was like they did a stellar job defensively. I just thought that both teams had a very difficult time.
The only guy that looked to me like he was in rhythm the whole night offensively, I shouldn’t say the whole night but the first half, was Rotnie Clarke. I thought he had a good first half and stepped up and made some shots.
One thing that was good was Walter did not shoot the ball well. And I think one of the things that I thought happened to our team that kind of carried over into the first half is just you have to have a really, really high level of mental toughness when shots aren’t going down to be able to work through that.
And, you know, I think that if you look at Dan Werner’s three point shooting percentage, 2 for 7, you know, Walter goes 0 for 5. They were still able to have a good, positive effect on the game with the things that they did.
You know, Walter was really good in the front of our press where we got on that little bit of a run. But you look at the stat sheet and he’s 0 for 5, but he impacted the game with a lot of different ways.
I give both those guys credit being older guys that they were able to mentally stay in the game. I thought Irving stepped up and had a good second half. And Nick had a better second half. Our overall team played better in the second half.
Q. Would you talk about what you did with the press? You kind of threw that on there and made a couple of changes. Seemed that you went with Walter and Irving there at the point and attacking their point guards.
COACH DONOVAN: Well, we really didn’t make a whole lot of adjustments in the press at halftime. What we really wanted to do was try to get our guards more off the floor and I thought in the first half maybe we were trapping a little bit too early. I thought we waited a little bit, and we kind of allowed the floor to get balance.
Then we just tried to really aggressively trap Fortson or Welsh or Clarke when they were back there. And I thought our guys did a good job of closing down traps and we did a good job of rotating up.
We were also active on the wall. Once we got a trap, we were active with our hands and able to get a few deflections and create some loose balls, and we were able to come up with them.
Q. You always talk about with this group, learning how to win, learning how to make the plays to win. It was a close game at halftime. One point game in the second half. And then they blew it open to a double digit lead. Is this the example of what you’ve been looking for?
COACH DONOVAN: Yeah, I think it is. But for some, they’ve got to battle through it. You know, it was good for someone like Nick or Chandler or Alex. These guys, the mental toughness of being able when you’re not doing well to not get discouraged or disappointed.
You know, it took like a halftime for them to kind of get out of it a little bit and start to focus on what they needed to do.
I think young players a lot of time have a tendency to, you know, to like woe is me and I’m not playing well. You know, there’s a mental toughness that you have to have. I shouldn’t say you have to develop. At least we’re trying as coaches to develop that piece that they understand.
You know, a guy like Walter, I can’t sit there and say we’ve done this great job developing Walter’s mental toughness. He’s kind of had that. Walter’s always been a passionate, tough kid. He’s kind of had that a little bit. I think some of our other guys have gotten better.
But there is still a lot of growth they need to have in those areas. But I think today was an indication in the second half that they are trying to address those things. They’re trying to get better. And, as a coach, someone asked me yesterday about what makes you happy about your team? And it’s that. I know we’re not there, but at least I feel like they’re working on the things we’re trying to address.
Q. Is this, Billy, is this a different team when Walter is playing with a sense of urgency offensively, going to the hoop more? It seems that lately he maybe realizes his career is approaching its end and he’s trying to do something about it?
COACH DONOVAN: I think one of the things with Walter that is a fine line is he’s such a team oriented guy and he wants to win. And he’s also a guy that really sometimes doesn’t take a lot of shots. He always does what you ask him to do and he gets great energy.
But there’s no question, when he’s shooting the ball well as he did last Saturday against Kentucky or even did some things and he scored and he’s doing that, it definitely helps our team. But also Walter needs some prodding sometimes, because he doesn’t want to go in there and say I’m focused on scoring. He really focuses on the things that I think ultimately impact winning at the end of the day. But there is no question when he does that it helps our team.
Q. Anything you can take from the first meeting against Auburn? Or was it just so long ago?
COACH DONOVAN: It was a long time ago for me, and I’m sure for our guys. But both teams struggled to shoot it from the three point line. The three point line both teams had a hard time. I think we made maybe three consecutive threes. I think Irving made two, and Walter Hodge made two, and it was a very close game. That kind of opened the game up for us a little bit. But it really could have gone either way.
It was probably a game for Auburn that I think you can probably take their first five or six games in the league and kind of probably throw them away with the way they’re playing right now.
Because I think probably for the team that’s a distant memory, and they’re playing great basketball right now. Like I said earlier, we’ve got a lot that we’ve got to get prepared for. Obviously, a quick turnaround here.
Q. What has your message been to Nick over the last week and through the first half of tonight’s game? Just helping him through his struggles a little more than he has?
COACH DONOVAN: I’m sorry, who was that?
Q. Nick Calathes?
COACH DONOVAN: You know, I think one of Nick’s challenges in growing as a player is sometimes you have to just accept that you’re not going to be the guy making the play. And you know what, sometimes the game calls for 11 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds, that’s it. You know, it doesn’t call for a triple double.
I think him understanding that I don’t want to say what is the word I’m looking for. He’s almost got a the greatest sign of respect to me when I was playing or the greatest sign of respect that I see when we go through scouting is when you talk about really trying to stop a guy.
When a team makes that type of emphasis to stop you, there’s going to be other things open. And sometimes being a decoy or just kind of being out there and having a presence on the court that people have to account for opens up things for other people. And there’s no need to force things.
Arkansas, I thought, did a great job guarding him tonight. Fortson was very good and aggressive in the first half. He’s just trying to do too much. Sometimes it just calls to pass the ball and let it go.
But the thing you love about him is Nick is such a competitor he wants to take all that on, and I’d rather have a guy like that who is that competitive and wants to do it, and try to help him understand how to manage what’s going on.
One of the hardest things for a player when you’re a young player is to go into a game with a clear mind and sit there and say I’m going to play every play for what the play calls for.
Sometimes guys go into a game with their mind made up of how they’re going to play and what they’re going to try to do instead of allowing the game to come to themselves. Nick’s got to allow it to come a little bit more.
Q. You talked about how well Auburn’s been playing compared to earlier in the year. What do you know you have to do tomorrow against them given how well they’ve been playing?
COACH DONOVAN: Well, I think it’s a lot of things. Barber’s been playing well up front, so our ability to handle their quickness and speed is going to be a major factor, major challenge for us. Ability to rebound the ball against him is going to be a factor.
And then being able to understand where their three point shooters are and what they’re doing. Because they have four guards out there.
Then I think the other thing, too, is offensively making sure that we get as good a looks as we can and make the extra pass movable. You know, just try to get a high level of shot, good percentage shots.
I think that will be important because I thought Auburn, when we played them there at Auburn, did a really good job defensively. And both teams really struggled to shoot the ball.
Q. Can you value looking at what happened to Pitt, Kansas, and Oklahoma today, and wins are hard this time of year. Is there such a thing as an ugly win?
COACH DONOVAN: Oh, as they say, survive and move on. Right now you want to find a way to win. Your guys have got to compete to win. That’s what I was saying a little bit earlier about a level of toughness. You can work through a game and still be able to do things that affect wining.
And probably one of the greatest examples I had of that as a coach was Dave Oden was at South Carolina. I think we played him in the SEC Championship game. It was their fourth game, it was our third. I think the game ended up like 45 43, and it was just an ugly game. And both teams did not play well. But you know what, we were fortunate that we were able to win the tournament championship.
You know what, he they deserved it as much as we did. We happened to make a couple more plays down the stretch whether we were fortunate or lucky. But I cannot tell you that game was a work of beauty. It wasn’t.
Sometimes this time of the year it’s not the team that looks the prettiest, but it’s the team that can make more wining plays. And that is something that I think that on our guys are trying to figure out.
Because I thought Arkansas’ guys tried just as hard. Those guys tried, Fortson competed, Welsh competed. Washington had 14 rebounds, those guys played hard. Maybe we were able to make a few more plays than they were to open up the lead. But certainly it was close most of the game: