It is being called the best game of the season for the Arkansas Razorbacks. A signature win.
What seemed like the closest thing to a sure thing since American Pharoah in the Triple Crown races -- the Razorbacks catapulting back onto the NCAA bubble -- barely moved the needle in the four major computer rankings.
Not sure any of those systems are meant to be understood by anyone who can't figure out rocket thrust to the moon, but it was an 83-76 win over No. 21 South Carolina, on its court -- a near replica, but smaller, of Walton Arena -- against the best defense in the country.
That was huge, but apparently it didn't mean much to the computer rankings. Arkansas still falls somewhere between 35 and 53 in the country.
Perhaps it was a learning lesson for these not-so-young Hogs.
For instance, when they trailed 19-5, the Hogs had one rebound and no assists. The Gamecocks were dominating the paint, the pace and the game.
With no warning, the Razorbacks said enough. Dusty Hannahs hit back-to-back deep threes and the Hogs were off and running on a 25-2 run to take the lead. Five different Razorbacks scored, including Jaylen Barford with seven of his first-half 17 in the run.
The biggest thing that changed was the Razorbacks' defense, and the offense fed off of it.
South Carolina was 1 of 13 in a stretch that saw the Razorbacks take a 30-21 lead. The Gamecocks would never lead again. They tied it at 30-30 with 3:36 to play in the first half, but Barford scored and Moses Kingsley got a three-point play.
In the second half, South Carolina got within 55-54 but Hannahs went off for nine consecutive points.
The Gamecocks countered, and with 2:23 to play they trailed 75-74, the crowd was finally into the game, and it seemed momentum might be swinging. After a backcourt violation on Barford, the home team made it 77-76, but Manny Watkins got in on the hero act by beating the shot clock with a jumper.
Daryl Macon iced the game with four free throws in the final 15 seconds. It was not only obvious Arkansas, at least on Wednesday night, was the better team, but the Razorbacks also were more of a team than they had been in a while.
The Hogs had four players score in double digits; Barford had 23 points, Hannahs 20, Kingsley 16 and Macon 13, but none of the points were bigger than Watkins' six.
Trey Thompson, Kingsley's backup, had only 3 points, but he also had 3 assists and 3 rebounds. More importantly, the big man had two second-half steals that the Hogs converted into points.
It was a total team effort. The chemistry was right. The desire was right. The defense was better than right.
Maybe the Hogs didn't jump into the center of the March Madness radar, but they sent a signal that they can be a force to be reckoned with.
The win kept them in a tie with Alabama for fourth place, and it has been written here several times that the Hogs need to be in fourth place when the season ends.
That would give them an afternoon game Friday against a team that plays in the previous 24 hours.
A win would pit them against the No. 1 seed, likely either Kentucky or Florida, but that one win -- combined with four out of the next five -- and the Hogs won't be home for spring break. They'll be in the NCAA Tournament.
They proved to the Razorbacks Nation, and most likely a little to themselves, they are better than most thought. They finished with 12 assists and 31 rebounds, one more than the Gamecocks.
Now, all they have to do is build off the win over South Carolina.
Sports on 02/17/2017
Print Headline: UA's work not done with S. Carolina victory