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Razorbacks' Season Ends with Hope from Unexpected Place
By Kent Smith,
Play of the young freshman guard shined light on potential of next year for Razorbacks
LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Thursday night's Sweet 16 game between Arkansas and UConn didn't exactly blind anyone with its bright spots.
Among the starters, Anthony Black put on a gutsy performance as he scrapped in 20 points and left it on the court as well as he could defensively.
Ricky Council did the same, fighting with all he had despite the Razorbacks being heavily overmatched until Arkansas coach Eric Musselman decided enough was enough.
However, amid all the frustration, face palming and screaming at the television done by Razorback fans throughout the night, there was one ray of hope Arkansas fans can cling to heading into next season.
The freshman guard came in with five minutes left like the wizard from Shazam had whipped out his staff and imbued him with powers of Razorbacks past and present.
The defense of Devo.
The attack of Mason Jones.
The heart of Corey Beck.
The feet of Todd Day.
For five minutes the pride of Magnolia stole the show.
Right away, Ford drove into the teeth of the UConn defense and forced his way up to the rim through a double-team that included Adama Sanogo . The shot banged around from the back of the rim to the front, doing all it could not to go down.
However, he drew a foul on Sanogo through purposeful body positioning on the shot and knocked down a free throw . He missed the second, but showed no evidence of nerves and it was his only free throw miss of the season.
His lightning quick feet on a defensive switch on UConn's ensuing possession allowed him to come off Andre Jackson to Tristen Newton so fast Newton was surprised as Ford ripped the ball away from him for what was called a jump ball.
Every time the ball went up, Ford went to the paint, which is something Arkansas missed for much of the game, especially in the first half. If the rebound wasn't here, he immediately dropped into a strong defensive stance and made life difficult for whomever came away with the rebound.
When Ford found himself matched up against the 7'2" Donovan Clingan, who had physically dominated Arkansas all game, he put a body on him deep in the paint and blocked him out all the way to the free throw line despite giving up 11 inches and 60 pounds.
At one point his defense forced a ball out of bounds at the half-court area as his active hands tipped it away off UConn's Aheim Alleyne.
When Barry Dunning, Jr. came in and attacked the basket for his first shot of the tournament, Ford came down with the rebound and quickly wrapped a well-placed pass back to Dunning for an easy lay-up.
A couple of minutes later, Ford drove to the rack against three defenders and still got his shot off. As the ball came off the end of the rim, Dunning cleaned it up with what was the only dunk of the game for the Razorbacks.
It may have only been five minutes, but it was easy to see that there's a bright future for Ford next season . He had all the hallmarks of the type of players who would have thrived at Arkansas in the 90s.
However, the defensive tools he put on display , plus the fearlessness and sturdy nature he showed on the offensive end make him a high potential contributor going into next season under Eric Musselman also.
As Arkansas looks to reset once again, Ford looks like he's got what it takes to be a strong bridge to the next Razorback team.
A ray of hope on what was an otherwise dark evening for the program.
If he proves he can consistently hit threes, that ray could be upgraded to a solar storm.
The question now, as it is for every Razorback at the end of each season under Musselman, is whether he stays.
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