Clarke likely to get Bear-sized escort

Rotnei Clarke may have the largest Alabama escort since the late Bear Bryant.

The Bear used to be surrounded by state troopers as the legendary Crimson Tide coach entered and exited the Alabama football fields in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham.

Troopers won’t surround Clarke Wednesday night on Alabama’s Coleman Coliseum basketball court in Tuscaloosa. But expect the Crimson Tide to guard Arkansas freshman shooting guard Clarke with police-like zeal.

In the 1 of Arkansas’ 1-11 SEC record, a 89-80 victory over Alabama on January 29 at Arkansas’ Walton Arena, Clarke erupted for a season-high 26 points including 6 for 13 on treys.

That kind of a first go-round does bode for smothering scrutiny on Clarke  in the SEC West home and home rematch. Coach John Pelphrey’s Razorbacks, 13-12 overall, and Alabama, 14-12, 4-8, play on radio only at 7 p.m. tonight (Wednesday).

“They’ll probably stick to me pretty close,” Clarke, the 6-foot freshman from Claremore, Okla., said.  “I am assuming the whole game probably.”

So what can Clarke’s role be?

“It just depends on what the defense is giving us,” Clarke said. “If somebody is open because they’ve got their focus on me, it’s good for us because people are going to step up and score. It’s going to give open lanes to Court (freshman point guard Courtney Fortson)  if they are guarding me.”

Pelphrey knows Clarke will often work in a crowd Wednesday but that his game needs to stand above the crowd even if he’s likely to be crowded out of approaching 26 points again.

“I think,” Pelphrey said,  “it will present some opportunities for somebody else. We still will try and shake him loose. He needs to be a part of the game and be very aggressive and do more ball-faking and drive the basketball and be aggressive on the pick and roll. He just needs to  understand he might not find a whole lot of  jump shooting opportunities. So he’s going to have to be a playmaker, not necessarily for his own, but for somebody else.”

And still make some shots which, other consecutive goose eggs early in the SEC season at Ole Miss and  at Florida and February 4 in Fayetteville versus Tennessee, Clarke has done.

Other than the three shutouts and five points in the first loss to Auburn in Fayetteville, Clarke has scored all double figures all the time in SEC games. Eight SEC games he’s ranged from scoring 12 to 26.

Though he shoots practically from a different area code, precious few of Clarke’s shots have been uncontested.

His long range reputation preceded him long range.

“Every team smothers him wherever goes,” Fortson said.

At least this time the Hogs have record that not only can Clarke score on this team, but that Razorbacks have a record of matching up well and winning.

“Yeah,” Clarke said, “but we kind of felt like we matched up well against every team but it hasn’t come out positive for us.  We know we beat them here at home but they are definitely going to be ready going into their place.”

With 27 points and 12 rebounds, 6-6 freshman Jason Henry of West Memphis obviously was the off-the-bench bright spot in Arkansas’ 82-78 overtime loss at SEC tri-leader South Carolina last Saturday night.

However sophomore guard and Forrest City High graduate Marcus Britt, 3 of 4 for six points, plus three boards, an assist and a shot-block, made some big plays, too.

“It was good to see him do that,” Pelphrey said. “Marcus did a great job of ball fake, ball fake, pivot, finish. Marcus did that three times. Courtney had one. Jason had a couple.”

Overall, though,  Pelphrey said he “doesn’t like how our team reads defenses” but  does like  their heart for continuing to play hard, including taking West and East leaders LSU and South Carolina to the wire the last two games, despite the mounting losses now seven straight.

“I am so proud of our players for their resiliency,” Pelphrey said. “ There’s still a belief in this team that we can win and I think we compete hard enough. We just need to make some plays.”

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