By Robbie Neiswanger
Arkansas News Bureau • firstname.lastname@example.org
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Mike Anderson has a message for his outside shooters who are struggling so far this season.
Don’t hesitate. Pull the trigger.
“We’ve got to be able to take them,” Anderson said Monday afternoon. “I think our guys are a little tentative about taking shots.”
Arkansas (3-3) is hoping its long-range struggles will end as it tries to snap a three-game losing streak against Oklahoma (6-1) in Bud Walton Arena at 6 p.m. tonight.
It’s the fourth game of a rugged nonconference stretch that already includes losses to Arizona State, Wisconsin and Syracuse. It ends at No. 3 Michigan on Saturday.
While Anderson doesn’t want players throwing up 3-pointers for the simple sake of doing it, he believes Arkansas can benefit from more opportunities after shaky performances so far this season. The Razorbacks are shooting 26.2 percent (26 of 103) from long range, which ranks 13th in the SEC. The latest issues came in the Syracuse loss, when Arkansas was 5-for-24 from behind the 3-point line.
“I think our shooting is a lot better than it’s showing,” Anderson said. “You’ve got to remember also now, we’ve played against some very good basketball teams, some veteran teams that early in the year, defense is going to be ahead of the offense.”
One of the most disappointing aspect for Arkansas, though, is the fact their best outside shooters, and most experienced players, have struggled to make shots so far.
Junior Mardracus Wade is 4-for-14 (28.6 percent) from 3-point range through six games. It’s a sharp contrast from last season, when he was one of the SEC’s best perimeter shooters after making 47.6 percent (70-for-147) as a sophomore.
Guard BJ Young has found plenty of ways to score in his five games this season, but is just 3-for-19 (15.8 percent) from long range so far. It comes a year after he shot 41.3 percent (50 of 121) from behind the 3-point line.
“We know he’s better than that. I think he’s better than that. Let’s hope it’s coming,” Anderson said. “He’s due. Not only is he due, our whole team is due.”
Arkansas is hoping a breakthrough will come against the Sooners, who beat the Razorbacks 78-63 in Norman, Okla., last season. Arkansas has won two straight against Oklahoma in Bud Walton Arena, including the 96-88 upset win against the Blake Griffin-led Sooners during the 2008-09 season.
This Oklahoma team will be another challenge for Arkansas’ perimeter offense. The Sooners, who are in their second season under coach Lon Kruger, are limiting opponents to shooting 26.1 percent (29-for-111) from long range this season.
Anderson said one solution to the shooting woes could include a lineup shakeup for tonight’s game. He was asked about point guard Dee Wagner and indicated the freshman could be in the starting lineup. Anderson believes Arkansas has been in a better rhythm with Wagner on the court and said he’ll be “out there quite often.”
Wagner made two of Arkansas’ 3-point baskets, to go along with three assists, in 23 minutes against Syracuse.
“He is getting more comfortable,” Anderson said. “Our guys are getting more confident in him. I think both defensively and offensively things started to flow when he was out there. He is getting the ball to the right people at the right time.”
Anderson believes there is hope they’ll start falling, too, with forward Marshawn Powell’s improvement in the paint. He said Arkansas began to establish something down low in the second half against Syracuse and it may create some open looks for the Razorbacks’ perimeter shooters if it continues tonight.
“Now comes the time where you have got to make shots,” Anderson said.
Oklahoma (6-1) at Arkansas (3-3)
When: 6 p.m.
Where: Bud Walton Arena
Radio: Razorback Sports Network
Series: Arkansas leads 14-12
Last Meeting: Oklahoma 78, Arkansas 63 on 12/10/11 in Norman, Okla.
Coaches: Arkansas — Mike Anderson (21-17 in second season); Oklahoma — Lon Kruger (21-17 in second season)
Projected Lineups: Arkansas — F Hunter Mickelson (6-10, So., 6.3 ppg), F Marshawn Powell (6-7, Jr. 13.3 ppg), G Ky Madden (6-5, So., 6.8 ppg), G Mardracus Wade (6-3, Jr., 7.3 ppg), G BJ Young (6-3, So., 21.4 ppg); Oklahoma — F Romero Osby (6-8, Sr., 11.1 ppg), F Amath M’Baye (6-9, Jr., 10.1 ppg), G Steven Pledger (6-4, Sr., 9.9 ppg), G Je’lon Hornbreak (6-3, Fr., 6.9 ppg), G Isaiah Cousins (6-3, Fr., 3.7 ppg)