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Freshman phenomenal against Vanderbilt

If the Razorbacks, and perhaps even Daniel Gafford himself, are lucky, the 6-11 freshman will play ball in Arkansas next season as a sophomore in Fayetteville.

Gafford could become stronger and learn to become less foul prone, while honing his craft for what appears will be a long, productive NBA career.

Then again, there are games like Saturday night, when Arkansas (17-8, 6-6 Southeastern Conference) defeated Vanderbilt (9-16, 3-9) 72-54 in SEC play at Bud Walton Arena and it seems the El Dorado native could play right now in the NBA.

Even though senior guards Daryl Macon and Jaylen starred for Arkansas once again, Gafford stood above all to Vanderbilt head coach Bryce Drew. Macon scored 21 points for a seventh straight game with at least 20. Barford most righted the Razorbacks' ship in the first half after they opened the game with five consecutive turnovers and no shots.

The Commodores coach marveled how Gafford blocked seven shots in 24 minutes, altered countless others and had two steals. He finished the game with 16 points, including a late-game windmill dunk that thrilled those still in the arena.

"Gafford, I thought, was the big difference in the game," Drew volunteered. "Not just his scoring and rebounding, but his rim-protecting. He took away a lot of easy baskets from us."

"He was ranked the 37th best player in the country coming in for reason and he showed it tonight," Drew added. "He impacted the game on both ends and he has great length. He moves really well and shot the ball well tonight. He is going to be a special player here."

Gafford sure played special Saturday, Arkansas coach Mike Anderson asserted after the Razorbacks' sloppy start.

"He was everywhere," Anderson said. "And the beauty of it was that he only played 24 minutes. That tells you how efficient he was tonight. He was active on defense and his energy was contagious on our basketball team. I mean, seven blocked shots. He blocked one shot and down on the other end, dunking it.

"Reminds me of a guy we had, Derek Hood could do that. He could block a shot and be down there that fast."

Hood played for Nolan Richardson when Anderson was an assistant in Fayetteville. He is a member of the University of Arkansas Sports Hall of Honor.

The Hogs were burned by 3-point shots in recent road losses at Texas A&M (17-8, 6-6) and LSU (14-10, 5-7) and were determined not to let the same happen against Vanderbilt. The Commodores hit but 3 of 26 threes, 11.5 percent, as Arkansas made them drives themselves into discomfort.

"We know they are a good 3-point shooting team," Macon said. "And good 3-point shooting teams, you've got to make them drive first and shoot second."

"That was our main objective," Gafford said. "Give them the cold shoulder on the 3-point line and make them drive."

When the Commodores drove, Gafford was the traffic cop closing their road.

"We try to make them drive and I have to protect the basket," Gafford said. " I had it on my mind that I was going to send out everything that comes in. They tell me that before very game. 'Whatever comes in, just throw it out.'"

Offensively, Anderson said Gafford missed some early shots then caught fire.

"He's getting around the basket and finishing shots.," Anderson said. "He knocked down a little elbow shot to start the second half. So it was good to see him play with a lot of confidence."

Gafford certainly wasn't bashful in finishing his late, explosive windmill slam. How soon on the break did he know he would finish it with a flourish?

"I really didn't even know," Gafford said. "I just went up and, in my mind, I thought the guy behind me was going to jump with me and I was going to dunk it then, but I saw the wide open lane and my eyes got ..."

Macon, seated next to Gafford at the media platform laughed and interrupted.

"You are going to sit there and tell me that you had no intentions?" Macon said. "You could see it from halfcourt that he was going to try something. It wasn't a close game, so he was going try something, whether he missed it or not. I don't know why he said that."

Gafford laughed.

"We'll let Macon bacon finish," Gafford said.

Sports on 02/13/2018

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