Khalif Battle sees his role with UA revitalize

Arkansas guard Khalif Battle (0) celebrates after making a three-point shot, Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023, during the second half of the Razorbacks’ 80-75 win over the Duke Blue Devils at Duke Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. Visit nwaonline.com/photo for today's photo gallery..(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)
Arkansas guard Khalif Battle (0) celebrates after making a three-point shot, Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023, during the second half of the Razorbacks’ 80-75 win over the Duke Blue Devils at Duke Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville. Visit nwaonline.com/photo for today's photo gallery..(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)


FAYETTEVILLE -- University of Arkansas senior guard Khalif Battle figures to play a larger role for the Razorbacks' rematch against the Texas A&M Aggies than he had in the teams' first meeting.

Anything Battle does tonight at Reed Arena in College Station, Texas, will be more than what he did when the Razorbacks beat the Aggies 78-77 on Jan. 16 at Walton Arena.

Which was nothing.

Battle is Arkansas' second-leading scorer on the season, but he didn't get off the bench for even a second when the Razorbacks (12-13, 3-9) got their first SEC victory on junior guard Tramon Mark's short jump shot with 1.1 seconds left.

Battle didn't sit out the game because of an injury. He was healthy.

"It was a coach's decision," Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman said when asked why Battle didn't play.

Musselman's decision for tonight's game figures to be to start Battle and play him significant minutes based on the Razorbacks' previous game when they lost at Mississippi State 71-67 last Saturday.

Battle started and had 18 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists without a turnover in 34 minutes. He would have played more, but he fouled out with 2 minutes left and the game tied 63-63.

It was the most points Battle, a 6-5 transfer from Temple, scored since he also had 18 in Arkansas' 83-73 victory over Abilene Christian on Dec. 21. His scoring high this season is 25 points against Furman.

In SEC games, Battle's playing time has fluctuated wildly.

In addition to not playing at home against Texas A&M, Battle played 2 minutes at Florida, 5 against South Carolina, 9 at LSU and 3 against Georgia. He also has played 24 or more minutes in four SEC games.

"My work hasn't changed," Battle said after the Mississippi State game when asked how he's dealt with the inconsistent playing time. "It's just we've got a lot of talented guys on the team, and you've got to be ready when your name is called.

"Whether I don't play, or whether I play 40 minutes, the No. 1 goal is winning. So I don't really get into that.

"I know what I'm capable of, and it doesn't change my work ethic and how I approach every single day."

Musselman was asked after the Mississippi State game if Battle's play earned him an expanded role at Texas A&M.

"When we're not playing as well as we would like to, as a coach I have a decision to make and the decision has been to continue to try and find combinations that put us in the best position to win," Musselman said. "K.B. has been a worker. [Against Mississippi State] offensively, I thought he had a good matchup."

Battle hit 7 of 13 shots and 4 of 6 free throws.

"Certainly, when he's scoring the ball and drawing free throws, we're a much better offensive team and I think his defensive principles have also improved as well," Musselman said. "Certainly him fouling out hurt us offensively in the late stages of the game."

Battle also played 34 minutes when the Razorbacks took No. 17 Kentucky to the wire before the Wildcats rallied to win 63-57 at Walton Arena on Jan. 27.

Battle had 11 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists against Kentucky and earned praise from Musselman for his defense.

"By far the best defense we've seen from him all year," Musselman said.

For the season Battle is averaging 10.4 points and 2.4 rebounds in 20.4 minutes. He's shooting 36.3% both from the field (64 of 176) and on three-pointers (32 of 88) along with 81.8% on free throws (90 of 110).

In SEC play Battle is averaging 5.8 points and 1.8 rebounds in 16.8 minutes and shooting 29.7% (19 of 64) from the field and 25.8% (8 of 31) on three-pointers. He's made 18 of 24 free throws.

The SEC numbers are a far cry from Battle's early-season games when he averaged 18.3 points and hit 13 of 24 shots -- 8 of 13 three-pointers -- in victories over Alcorn State, Gardner-Webb and Old Dominion. Through the first 11 games, he averaged 16.4 points.

Battle's most impressive game came in the Razorbacks' 80-75 victory over No. 8 Duke on Nov. 29 at Walton Arena in the ACC/SEC Challenge when he had 21 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals in 31 minutes.

But that performance -- for Battle as well as the Razorbacks -- has been a challenge to duplicate with any degree of consistency.

"I just want to win, so whatever we've got to do as a team and individually," Battle said after the Mississippi State game. "As long as we get the win, that's all that matters.

"It's just time to get back to work. That's really what it is."

Arkansas forwards Trevon Brazile (knee) and Jalen Graham (shoulder) didn't play at Mississippi State because of injuries, and guard Keyon Menifield (groin) was out for the second half.

But the short-handed Razorbacks gave themselves a chance to beat the Bulldogs, who didn't take their final lead until less than a minute remained.

"I think we made a step in the right direction, but we've still got a little ways to go," Battle said. "It's tough because we feel like we were right there.

"I can't really put it into words, but we're still going to keep working."


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