Arkansas-Iowa St. Preview
Arkansas' depth came in handy as it survived a team-wide case of the flu to win its most recent game.
With his team closer to full health ahead of its game at Iowa State on Thursday night as part of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, coach Mike Anderson is again counting on that depth to give the Razorbacks a chance for a marquee non-conference road victory.
At 6-0, No. 18 Arkansas is off to its best start since opening the 1997-98 season with eight straight victories. Anderson relied heavily on his bench Sunday in a 94-77 victory over Iona - nine players logged at least 12 minutes and 11 saw action - as the reserves totaled 19 points and 16 rebounds.
Michael Qualls - one of the flu-ridden Razorbacks - had 20 points and nine rebounds, and shut down Gaels guard A.J. English in the second half on the defensive end. He also had three 3-pointers in a game-breaking 17-4 run in the second half as Arkansas outrebounded Iona 51-40 and forced 18 turnovers.
"'That just tells you his heart," Anderson said of Qualls. "He didn't want to let his team down. He probably played more minutes than he ever played. I guess it's something that guys get sick and have career days. He almost had a double-double. He played well.''
That seemingly endless supply of bodies has allowed Anderson to use an up-tempo approach and keep players fresh. Arkansas, which is among the nation's leaders with 20.7 assists per game, is also one of only four Division I teams to score at least 78 points in every game and leads the SEC at 90.0 per contest.
"That means we have guys who can pass the basketball, guys making shots, making plays," Anderson said. "It makes you a tough team to defend because now you have to figure out how to zero in. We've got guys capable of finishing plays and that's what we're seeing early on."
Yet Anderson is wary of Iowa State's offense, and with good reason. The 20th-ranked Cyclones (4-1) are averaging 83.4 points and bounced back from their lone loss to rout Lamar 96-59 on Tuesday as UNLV transfer Bryce Dejean-Jones had 12 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and four steals in 27 minutes.
''It's been very exciting,'' said the 6-foot-6 Dejean-Jones, who is starting to create the same matchup problems for Iowa State opponents DeAndre Kane did last season. "One of the things (coach Fred Hoiberg) emphasized with me was rebounding. I told him I'd give it my all with rebounding."
Iowa State also proved itself capable of sharing the ball Tuesday, racking up 26 assists to only nine turnovers. The Cyclones have registered at least 18 assists in each of their victories, but had only seven in their defeat to Maryland.
''We got back to who we are with the 26 assists. That's the thing I'm most excited about with this team. We're moving the ball,'' Hoiberg said.
Iowa State has won 23 straight non-conference home games since a 69-62 loss to Northern Iowa on Nov. 30, 2011, but it will be only the third time the Cyclones will be hosting a ranked opponent in that span.
"We've got to go play, play with confidence and play with poise," Anderson said. "There will be some adversity, they're a good team. This will be another test for us. It's a bigger test on a bigger stage."