Arkansas' Bell flourishing in expanded role for Razorbacks
It was getting them to go in on a game-to-game basis that occasionally frustrated the Razorbacks' guard, his coaches and fans.
Bolstered this season by the confidence derived from a newfound leading role, Bell has found the consistency Arkansas (7-7, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) has long sought from the 6-foot-3 senior.
His emergence couldn't have come at a more-needed time for a team in transition following the early departures of standouts Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls following last season's SEC runner-up finish.
Heading into Saturday afternoon's game with Mississippi State (7-6, 0-1), Bell leads the SEC in 3-point shooting percentage - having connected on 45.4 percent (44 of 97) of his shots from behind the arc this season. He's also second on Arkansas in scoring with an average of 16.8 points per game, well above the 7.9 he averages a season ago.
''It's just confidence,'' Bell said. ''Just knowing the team has confidence in me knocking down shots.''
Bell's shooting percentage this season is a dramatic jump from last season's 35.1 percent 3-point shooting for Bell, though the frequency of his attempts really aren't all that different. After attempting 5.1 3-pointers per game in an average of 18.3 minutes per game last season, Bell's 6.9 attempts this season are coming in almost 10 minutes more per game.
It's a jump in playing time due partly to a significant roster turnover, but it's one that reflects coach Mike Anderson's newfound trust on both ends of the court in Bell - who Anderson said ''used to be a (defensive) liability.''
''He's doing a lot of other things (than just shooting 3-pointers),'' Anderson said. ''We've seen this kid come from like a little pup, a little piggy, and he's grown up and he's helping our team tremendously.''
Bell has scored in double digits in all but one game this season for the Razorbacks, including a season-high 26 in an overtime win over Vanderbilt on Tuesday night. He made 6 of 10 3-pointers in the win, none bigger than what briefly appeared to be the game winner - a 3-pointer with 4 seconds remaining in regulation that put the Razorbacks up 77-75.
Vanderbilt tied the game up soon thereafter, but Bell continued to help in the extra period with a key steal and assist.
The last time Bell hit six 3-pointers in a game came near the end of his sophomore season, a 6-of-8 shooting performance that highlighted a 28-point outburst in an opening-round NIT win over Indiana State. That was followed by a three-point effort, on 1-of-10 shooting, in a loss to California - a swing in production not uncommon during Bell's first three seasons.
Bell said he spent last offseason incorporating quick moves into his shooting routine during practice rather than focusing on only the catch-and-shoot drills he had used in the past.
The result has been Bell has hit at least one 3-pointer in every game this season, proving his workout change was worth the time - and showing that Anderson's continued trust in him was the right decision.
''I knew I was going to be playing more minutes this year, so I was trying to get my legs tighter and use my legs more,'' Bell said. ''It was a lot different, because I knew I was stepping into a different role and was going to do more than just spot-up shooting.''