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Hogs: Harris looks forward to help team on road

FAYETTEVILLE — Alandise Harris had no role in Arkansas’ road woes last season, but that fact didn’t make the struggles any easier.

He watched from home while teammates struggled to a 1-12 record outside the state. Harris wanted to help and was confident he would make a difference. But the only thing Harris could do was take notes and wait for the 2013-14 season.

“I was just looking at the needs,” Harris said when asked what it was like watching the losses pile up. “There were a lot of need plays that should be happening on the road that just weren’t happening in the clutch time. Like, we’d get back in it, and then we’d end up losing by 10. But we were right there with three minutes left.”

Harris is eager to help the Razorbacks change that this season.

The forward — who sat out because of NCAA transfer rules — is on his first road trip with the Razorbacks (3-0) as they open play against California (4-0) in the Maui Invitational at 2 p.m., today. The game will be televised by ESPN2.

It’s the first of Arkansas’ three games at the prestigious early-season tournament and a critical opportunity for coach Mike Anderson’s program to prove its struggles the past two seasons are a thing of the past. Harris will play a valuable role in it.

The forward leads Arkansas in scoring (18.3 points) and shares the team lead in blocks (1.7) and steals (1.3) after three games. He has brought toughness and confidence to the frontcourt, too. Both are traits the Razorbacks believe will suit them well when they face the Golden Bears, then Syracuse or Minnesota on Tuesday.

“He just has that presence about him,” Arkansas guard Mardracus Wade said. “He’s so demanding. We know that he can finish for us. He’s tough, and so we need guys like that to help us win on the road. … It’s not like this is his first time ever playing college ball. He’s a veteran. So, he knows what he’s doing and we just basically follow in his footsteps and hope we get more guys doing what he’s doing.”

Harris, a Little Rock native, is ready to lead the way after transferring to Arkansas following two seasons at Houston (2010-11 and 2011-12).

He proved capable during his sophomore season during the Cougars’ 87-78 road win against Arkansas in North Little Rock. Harris scored 18 points and grabbed 6 rebounds in his homecoming game, making a big impression on the Razorbacks.

Wade later learned Harris intended to transfer to Arkansas after the season ended and didn’t believe it at first. But he knew what Harris’ addition would mean.

“I didn’t know him, but I knew of him from people talking around here who are from Little Rock and go to school here,” Wade said. “So, when we first played him against Houston, he impressed me with how athletic he is and tough. He can rebound.

“When I found out he was coming here, I was like, ‘Man, that’s going to be a big addition, that’s going to help us out a lot.’”

Arkansas saw the benefits immediately after Harris arrived. He couldn’t play, but practice with the Razorbacks throughout the 2012-13 season.

Harris’ toughness became well known during Arkansas’ practices. So did his sense of fashion. Harris wore bow ties on the bench during home games last season.

“It benefitted me by just getting to know everybody, getting to see what Coach is looking for, and see what we need,” Harris said of the redshirt season experience. “What we need as a team, what I need to do, and where I fit in.”

Harris was glad to put his bow ties away, though, trading them for an Arkansas jersey and shorts. He has come off the bench in every game so far this season, but Arkansas’ leading scorer looks comfortable in averaging 21.3 minutes.

“He’s grasping what we’re asking him to do,” Anderson said. “He’s been in a position where he comes off the bench, but as I told him, it’s about the minutes that he’s going to play. To me, he is a starter. He’ll certainly be one of the finishers.

“He’s one of those guys that as time goes on, I can trust him to put the ball in his hands and he can go and make some plays for us.”

Anderson, who has described Harris as a “man” several times, said it was evident in the past two games.

Arkansas needed someone to make a play down the stretch in too-close-for-comfort outings against Louisiana-Lafayette and Southern Methodist. Each time, Harris answered the call with buckets, blocks or free throws. He also drew a charge.

His dependability in the clutch comes as no surprise to teammates.

“He definitely earned his respect from us from Day 1,” Arkansas guard Kikko Haydar said. “We knew he was going to be a good player for us, and he’s proven that early.”

They’re hoping it continues in Maui.

It hasn’t taken long for Harris, who celebrated his 23rd birthday on Saturday, has already started to establish himself as Arkansas’ go-to player. So his performance in paradise should have a big say in the Razorbacks’ success during their first road trip.

“One thing I know about this guy: He’s going to play with his hard hat, and he’s going to play with his heart,” Anderson said. “You’ve got to have that level of toughness, and I think he brings that to our basketball team.”

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