Arkansas facing tough teams early

By: Nate Allen
Published: Monday, December 3, 2012
“It’s new for everybody,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said in reference to the new conference schedule. “We’ll see how it unfolds.
Photo by Michael Woods
“It’s new for everybody,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said in reference to the new conference schedule. “We’ll see how it unfolds.

— Fans always love their teams upgrading their schedules to take on the best - until their team gets beat.

However, it seemed most of the announced 19,259 packing Walton Arena on Friday night were more gratified with their young Razorbacks’ effort than disappointed that their team lost to Syracuse.

Ranked No. 5 and No. 6 in college basketball’s two major polls, Syracuse’s Orangemen withstood furious Arkansas comebacks each half just when it seemed the Razorbacks reeled on the ropes.

Syracuse finally prevailed, 91-82.

Any Arkansas fans unduly pained by the loss didn’t ache any more than the 3-3 Hogs themselves that they couldn’t prevent a third consecutive defeat.

Arkansas upgraded from beginning with presumed cupcakes Sam Houston State, though the Bearkats played Arkansas tough in the season-opener at Walton, and Longwood and Florida A&M to losing vs.both Arizona State and Wisconsin in Las Vegas then losing to Syracuse in Fayetteville.

“The guys were disappointed without a doubt,” Mike Anderson, Arkansas’ second-year head coach and former assistant under Nolan Richardson, said. “First of all we don’t lose many games here, especially nonconference.”

Even No. 3 Michigan lost to Arkansas at Walton Arena last season. No doubt they vengefully await Arkansas’ rematch visit Saturday to Ann Arbor, Mich.

Michigan will be awfully difficult for these Hogs to beat up there.

That places a premium on Arkansas defeating the Oklahoma Sooners Tuesday night at Walton. Otherwise Arkansas likely goes 0-5 for this 5-game gauntlet before the Razorbacks break for final exams.

“They wanted this [Syracuse] game here,” Anderson said. “But at the same in this business you have got to have a short memory. Our kids have got to have short memory. We have a very good (6-1) Oklahoma team coming in here. We played them last year at their place. We just have got to keep getting better.”

Oklahoma whipped Arkansas, 78-63 last season in Norman, Okla. right after Arkansas played Connecticut. UConn was the reigning 2011 national champion and heavy favorite at home, but Arkansas played the Huskies a surprisingly tough game offering similar glimmers of hope that fans saw Friday night against Syracuse.

That 15-point loss at Oklahoma busted some Arkansas balloons inflated on Connecticut air.

Of course the sky won’t fall if the Hogs lose to Oklahoma Tuesday night.

Longtime Arkansas fans ruefully remember how the impatience of some with Richardson’s first two Razorbacks seasons could have cost them the coach that eventually won the national championship.

Experience from the past and potential unfolding in the present tells them Arkansas has the right coach on the right track.

Meanwhile Anderson’s experience tells him to look beyond the combined 32 points by BJ Young and Marshawn Powell as favorable flashes from Friday.

Freshman Dee Wagner, the only true point guard among Arkansas’ array of otherwise combo guards, truly looked the part. In 23 off the bench minutes Wagner dealt three assists without a turnover, made a steal and hit two three-pointers on four attempts.

“Dee Wagner was our guy controlling the show,” Anderson said.

Sports, Pages 16 on 12/03/2012