Richardson Previews Wednesday Night Battle wit
BY ANDRES FOCIL
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The following is a brief transcript of a press conference held by Arkansas head coach Nolan Richardson to preview the Arkansas at Tennessee basketball game at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn. on Wednesday night. The 7:05 p.m. will be televised by Jefferson-Pilot Sports.
“We’re much smaller than Tennessee but we are supposed to be quicker. I hope we are quicker. Tennessee has good size and is more physical than Kentucky.
“T.J. Cleveland is feeling better. He will work a little early in the week. He might be ready for Tennessee but if there is any doubt we won’t play him. He may have a better chance of playing Sunday against Auburn. We want him to be ready for the SEC Tournament.
“It’s important to say this team has improved a lot. The fun part of coaching this year has been watching the improvement. We had a chance to win at Kentucky and the players know it. We’ve had a chance to win a lot of games this year. We are closing the gap. We are closer than we were two months ago. We hope to continue to close the gap.
“I said in the beginning we would have our ups and downs. To perform as well as we did in the basketball capitol of the world, which I think Kentucky-Indiana is, was something I was proud of. We walked into an arena where 23,000 fans expected a blowout and it didn’t happen.
“As a coaching staff we certainly have talked about what might have happened if we would have had Joe Johnson and Larry Satchell from the beginning and if T.J. Cleveland hadn’t been injured. There’s no telling where this team might be. But, the only thing most people care about is winning and when a team is struggling the sharks come out for blood.
“I just feel fortunate to have done the things I’ve done, been the places I’ve been and coached the players I’ve coached. We were on top and I know that what goes up must come down. We’ve come down but will go back up again. This is just a bump in the road. We will go around or over the bump and get it done.
“All we are talking about now is making individual improvement. If each individual improves, our team will improve. We have another season coming, the tournament season. At Tennessee if we can improve enough, maybe we can win a game. Then we play Auburn. When that game is over we can look back and ask, have we improved since day one? That’s when we really start thinking about what might have been with Joe and Larry from the start.
“I’ve been blessed. If my career ended today, I would be blessed. But, it isn’t going to end today. All I ask of the Lord is to let me wake up each morning and I’ll take it from there. I don’t enjoy losing. When I get to where I enjoy losing, I’m quitting. When I first came to Arkansas we struggled with players I didn’t recruit. This is the first season we’ve had like that since then. It if all turns around and goes like I think it will, I will look back at this year as a wonderful season.
“We’ve played better lately. Just imagine where Blake Eddins was a month ago. He’s been our leading scorer in our last three games. We knew he had it in him and it was just a matter of time. Our defense is better, our offensive patience is better, our execution is better, our spacing is better and our balance is better. The area of concern right now is our rebounding . We have to get better there. I don’t worry so much about defensive rebounds. If we shoot more than our opponents, they are going to get more defensive rebounds because we don’t shoot that well. But, when the other team gets as many offensive rebounds as Kentucky did, that is a concern.
“We have some people who can rebound. Carl Baker had six rebounds at halftime of Kentucky. We think he can do better. He had 15 boards in the second game he played for us. Alonzo Lane had foul problems. He is picking up fouls he might not pick up if he was a junior or senior. It’s important he not get any cheap fouls early in the game.
“Jerry Green has done a phenomenal job at Tennessee. I thought Kevin O’Neill started it by bringing in some good players but Jerry has built chemistry and has them playing well. Tony Harris can light it up. He can shoot them in or shoot them out of a game. You have to hope he doesn’t have one of those great nights against you. He’s hard to guard. He can stop on a dime and pull up and shoot.
“The name of the game is putting the ball in the hole. If you don’t, you aren’t going to win. Tennessee missed some shots they usually hit in the game at Alabama. On the road you have to shoot well and not give too many opportunities at the foul line in order to win. We have to hold our own on the boards and make some shots to have a chance to win at Tennessee.
“We’ve had good shots. Blake Eddins had two wide-open shots in the last minute at Kentucky. I hope he gets another chance like that. He will nail it. We’re making teams play defense longer before we shoot. We’re getting open shots. If this team shot 46 percent from the field and 62 percent from the free throw line our record would be very different.
“I thought we would be a good shooting team. We have a lot of perimeter players. A good shooting team is hard to beat. When the lights came on and fans came in the building I guess our freshmen resorted back to being freshmen in shooting the ball. Chris Walker started out shooting very well but he wore down a little. Sometimes one guy can change things. Blake Eddins hit some shots against Vanderbilt and everyone started hitting some. T.J. Cleveland started well. When he started missing shots everyone got a little tighter. I think our confidence in shooting is starting to come back and a lot of it is due to Blake.
“Tennessee has so many players back from a team that reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year. They are the deepest team in the league. They have more good athletes than anyone else in the SEC. When Harris has it going they are very tough to beat but he doesn’t have to play well for them to win. This will be tough for us. We haven’t played well at Tennessee. Maybe this team will change that. We will play hard, I know that.”
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