FAYETTEVILLE--Razorback basketball coach Mike Anderson has been saying for weeks that he needed a better effort from his bench. Against Tennessee he accomplished that goal by making starters B.J. Young and Hunter Mickelson a part of the bench. The two sophomores responded, scoring 35 of the Hogs' 41 bench points in the game.
Anderson's strategy change didn't stop there. Freshman Michael Qualls made the most of his first start as a Razorback with seven points and 11 rebounds including a monster board and dunk off a missed free throw over Vols power forward Jarnell Stokes which ignited the Walton Arena crowd.
"I thought the injection of Michael Qualls into the lineup really gave us a high energy level," Anderson told reporters after the game. "The thing about him is, he's only six-foot five but with his long arms and the way he jumps he plays more like six-eleven."
Young claimed part of the credit for Qualls' big night. Not only did Qualls replace Young as a starter but he also took over the three spot normally reserved for Young.
"I've kind of been telling coach all year," Young revealed, "if we had him (Qualls) in at the three instead of the four he could just run around and go crazy and grab a lot of boards because he wouldn't be able to get boxed by those bigger guys. It worked today."
Qualls not only scored and rebounded well he helped harass the 6'-8," 270 pound Stokes into four costly turnovers by Tennessee in the game.
"One of our main points of emphasis was everytime he gets the ball we wanted to double him," Qualls noted. "Everytime a shot went up we wanted to find him. For us, being the smaller team, we really need to get better at limiting the other team's big men."
Mickelson did his part to help out around the basket too and like Qualls he did it with movement and footwork rather than straight up inside muscle.
At one point Mickelson missed a short jump shot but outquicked a pair of Vols to the ball before grabbing it and laying it back in. Also, on a night when the Hogs were once again struggling to hit jumpshots, Mickelson's long two-pointer with 4:09 to play pushed a nine-point Arkansas lead back into double digits.
"He was active," Anderson said of Mickelson's play. "He was really agressive. The thing I Iike about him, he can space the floor because he has such a nice touch. It was good to see him not even hesitate in terms of shooting the basketball."
Qualls said Mickelson was clearly back playing his own style of basketball.
"That's the way he does it," Qualls stressed. "He wasn't trying to be somebody else. I feel like if we can keep him playing like that we can go through the roof as a team."
Anderson didn't say if he will keep Young and Mickelson on the bench with Qualls in the lineup at the start of this week's clash with No. 2 Florida. That decision will likely be made minutes before the start of the game as it was against Tennessee. Either way Young said he was enouraged by the way the players responded to the change and he's eager for the challenge of trying to hand the Gators their first SEC loss of the season.
"It's a great opportunity for us to make a statement and show the improvement we've made as a team and get a big win in the SEC," Young said matter-of-factly."
Arkansas and Tennessee tip it off at 6 p.m. Tuesday from Bud Walton Arena on ESPN.