FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas guard Fred Gulley hasn’t been known as a scorer throughout his college career.
The senior has only reached double figures once since transferring to Arkansas. He never did it during his time at Oklahoma State. He’s averaging 3.9 points a game this season and his 10 points against Minnesota serves as his career-high, too.
So Gulley’s one-man, seven-point spurt during the first half of Arkansas’ 87-85 overtime win against Kentucky was unexpected. But Gulley enjoyed it.
“I was confident taking the shots, and I knocked them down,” said Gulley, who finished with nine points against the Wildcats. “It was good. My teammates got me the ball in a position where I could make some plays. I’m glad I completed them.”
It’s not known if Gulley will continue to be a scoring threat today, when the Razorbacks (12-4, 1-2 in Southeastern Conference) go back on the road to play at Georgia (8-7, 2-1 in SEC). But there’s no doubt he’ll continue to play an important role as Arkansas tries to build off the Kentucky win and put an end to its road woes.
That’s because Gulley — whether he’s scoring or not — has been a steady performer for an Arkansas team that has plenty of talented players. He may not be one of the team’s top offensive options, but Gulley does bring a solid assist-to-turnover ratio (2.8 to 1) to Georgia. He has turned it over just six times in his last 225 minutes.
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said it shows Gulley’s value to the Hogs.
“He’s a facilitator,” Anderson said. “He understands that. He understands what the coaching staff is asking for him and what he can do to help our basketball team. He’s not trying to go over and do things he can’t do.”
That was all Gulley was looking for when he left Oklahoma State midway through the 2011-12 season. The Fayetteville native wanted to come home to play for the Razorbacks and has gotten the opportunity the past two seasons.
He wasn’t eligible until after the fall semester in 2012, so he sat out the first eight games. It wasn’t a simple transition when he got on the court.
Gulley played in 21 games and earned nine starts last season, but averaged just 1.5 points and 13 minutes a game. He didn’t play in Arkansas’ season-ending loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament, but wasn’t discouraged by the difficult year.
“Last year it was kind of like getting thrown into the fire at mid-season, especially with conference just being around the corner from it,” Gulley said. “I got to do a full offseason and summer of working out and preparing my game, and it’s really benefitted me. Especially getting to play in all the games before conference.”
Gulley has started 14 of Arkansas’ 16 games this season and is averaging 3.9 points, 1.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists. He’s playing 16.2 minutes a game, but was on the floor much more in Arkansas’ overtime games against Florida and Kentucky.
He played 27 minutes in the Florida loss and 24 against the Wildcats.
“He’s tough. He works hard every day,” guard Ky Madden said. “And what he brings for the team is his leadership and he’s not afraid of nothing. He doesn’t get down on himself whether he makes a bad play or a good play. He’s always even minded, just staying himself. That’s what we need on this team. … He calms us down.”
Said Gulley: “I want to be somebody that’s a stabilizer for the team. If things are going bad, you can get the ball in my hands and I’ll make the right play.”
But Gulley added that scoring is fun, too.
He got seven of his nine points in the Kentucky game during that first-half run, which helped Arkansas build a 30-25 lead. The guard made a layup to trigger the spurt, tying the game at 23-23. He then knocked down a short jumper and followed it with a 3-pointer to break another tie, giving Arkansas a 28-25.
In the end, Madden’s 18 points and Qualls’ game-winning dunk overshadowed Gulley’s early spurt. But the guard’s contributions weren’t forgotten, especially since he played with four fouls through much of the second half and overtime.
Gulley called it the best game of his career and Anderson agreed.
“I thought Fred, that was probably one of his best games overall,” Anderson said Tuesday night. “He was engaged. During that period he was the hot hand and took what the defense gave him. On defense, he was excellent. He played with four fouls in the second half. He gave us great energy.”
“A fifth-year senior — he showed some of the tangibles he brings to this team.”
Gulley said he enjoyed the moment and is counting on more as the season continues.
“I’m here getting the opportunity to play in front of my family and friends and contribute,” Gulley said about his senior season. “I couldn’t ask for any more.”