FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas Freshman Jordan Walsh and No. 8-seed Arkansas will take on No. 4-seed UConn on Thursday night at 6:15 p.m. in the Sweet 16 and televised on CBS.
Walsh was one of three 5-star recruits who signed with Arkansas in the past recruiting class. Walsh, 6-7, 205, was a McDonald’s All-American and Anthony Black, also a McDonald’s All-American, said recently his teammate’s role hasn’t been like maybe he thought it would be when he signed.
“Coming into college as a McDonald’s All-American, most people think you want to go out and score 20 points and get 10 assists and 12 rebounds,” Walsh said. “But that wasn’t really my mentality coming in. To me, coming in was just, if I can help us win at a high level in March and hopefully have us playing in the last game on television, which would be the championship, then I’ll be able to achieve the things I want to achieve without having to score 20 points or come off ball screens the whole game or do stuff like that.
“My role has fallen kind of into being that glue guy. We have a lot of older guys who are better at scoring and better at reading plays than I am, like Devo (Davis) and Ricky (Council IV). They’re bred for these types of scenarios. You could say I have the easy job, just picking up the gap that’s left, and that’s kind of what I’ve done. I’ve been successful at it so far, so I’m going to keep doing whatever it takes to win. That’s it. That’s what I do.”
This season in 35 games while playing 24.5 minutes per game, Walsh is averaging 7.2 points, 4.0 rebounds, 0.9 assist, 1.1 steals and 0.5 block each outing. In the win over Illinois, Walsh had six points, four rebounds, one assist and three steals. He was plus-22 (points for team while on floor) for the game despite not posting lofty stats.
Against Kansas, Walsh had 10 points, three rebounds, two steals and a block. Once again, he was a team-best plus-12. He talked about how much pride he takes in the Hogs outscoring opponents when he’s on the court.
“I take a lot of pride in the small things that help the team win,” Walsh said. “And I feel like the plus-minus is just a reflection of what you do to help the team win. With me being a guy who’s going to dive on the floor for loose balls, or guard their best player and get a stop or two. I feel like those things are reflected by that.
“That’s what’s most important to me, and winning. I feel like it’s a reflection of what’s most important to me when it comes to competing and winning a game.”
Following the win over Illinois, Eric Musselman talked about Walsh’s plus-22 and how he achieved it.
“He did everything,” Musselman said. “He got loose balls, he altered shots, he ran the floor hard both offensively and defensively, gave great support defense to his teammates.
“I thought he put great heat on the ball, great pressure on the ball. He rushed the quarterback. His plus/minus was by far our highest while he was on the floor. You know, sometimes you wonder -- he’s been a starter for most of the year. We brought him off the bench (Saturday). I thought he was phenomenal.”
Kamani Johnson is one of two returning players from last year’s team. He has taken notice of Walsh’s impact this season and in the tournament.
“When you’re a freshman, you have to get used to things and it can be difficult when you come here and things don’t go your way,” Johnson said. “If anything, it’s just credit to him. When the lights are bright, he’s showing up and performing. That’s what we need from him right now, and that’s what we’re getting. I think he’s been a great addition in March and kind of an X-factor in why we are winning these games.”
One issue that Walsh has had this season is battling foul trouble many games. He talked about how he’s trying to adjust to avoid fouling out of games.
“It’s just a mentality of keeping in mind the small things that I used to do,” Walsh said. “That fouls would be a lot of just ticky tack on ball stuff or even off ball stuff. It would just be small stuff like me putting my hand on somebody once they start driving. Just small stuff like that that I had to get out of my routine and break that habit so that I would be able to stay on the court longer and help my team longer.”
Walsh talked about the UConn players he may be asked to defend on Thursday.
“We’ve been able to cover their team a little bit,” Walsh said. “We’re going to do even more in a little bit. For the most part, everybody knows their big man, he’s dominant. We’re going to work on containing him, along with some of their guards who are high-scoring guards, we have to focus on them as well. They’re a really good team. They’ve come this far in the season, so I bet that says to how much they’ve been working and they’ve been grinding this season. It’s going to be a good game and we’re just excited to be able to compete again.”
Arkansas is 22-13 on the season while UConn is 27-8.