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story.lead_photo.caption Arkansas forward Daniel Gafford (10) goes for a block against Troy guard Darian Adams (2) during a game Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017, in North Little Rock. - Photo by Mitchell PE Masilun

FAYETTEVILLE -- In Mike Anderson's system, a player's promotion conventionally comes from bench player to starter, not the other way around.

Take Daniel Gafford and Adrio Bailey as opposites in how Anderson's system can work.

Freshman Gafford, 6-11, played so well in Arkansas' first eight games off the bench averaging 12.0 points and 5.8 rebounds that Anderson started him the last three games. Starting with his 8 for 8 shooting night scoring 16 points in 21 minutes against Minnesota while blocking six shots and grabbing four rebounds, Gafford has been on a roll.

Collectively for his last three starts, Gafford has hit 17 of 21 shots blocked 11 shots and grasped 17 rebounds. He even turned passer against ORU dishing four assists finding the open man as defenders flocked to him like ants to a picnic.

But bench production is so important to Anderson, and Gafford had played so well off the bench, that after that Minnesota game Anderson was asked if Gafford would return to that sixth man/big man spark.

"He's ready to keep starting," Anderson asserted. "He's earned it."

Bailey, a 6-7 sophomore, started Arkansas' first seven games and mostly played well, occasionally spectacularly blocking five North Carolina shots.

However as an ineffectual part of the starting lineup opening the 91-65 loss at Houston in an 11-0 hole, Bailey got displaced starting these last four games by senior Dustin Thomas.

Bailey appeared to play in a funk while others excelled off the bench during the ensuing 92-66 rout over Colorado State.

Since then Bailey off the bench has imprinted instant energy. He played a spirited 14 minutes against Minnesota contributing six points and two boards. Last Tuesday, subbing 12 minutes against ORU, he hit 3 of 3 shots with a rebound, two assists, two steals and two blocked shots.

In between, Bailey subbed a spectacular 16 minutes against Troy. He scored 10 points with six rebounds, two assists, and blocked a shot.

"That (Troy) game, in particular, was one of his best games in a Razorback uniform," Anderson said. "He was so active and athletic. I thought he played angry. I thought he was going to tear the backboard down when I watched the tape. He was relentless."

So relentless that Anderson implied that maybe Bailey seemed cloned.

"He was relentless everywhere," Anderson said. "Offense, defense, running the floor. Hopefully that's the Adrio we're going to see from here on out because that makes our bench that much more dangerous."

The Razorbacks' bench is too dangerous already, says Minnesota Coach Richard Pitino. Pitino admitted tiring of seeing his Golden Gophers tired against Arkansas' ongoing onslaught.

"Obviously we wore down," Pitino said postgame at Walton Arena. "They keep coming at you in this building. They've got really good depth."

Especially so when Adrio Bailey and Co. perform like energized starters off the bench.

Sports on 12/25/2017

Print Headline: Gafford earns starting role

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