Verizon hardly Hogs’ hot spot

Anderson eyes better connection

By: Bob Holt
Published: Saturday, December 22, 2012
Sophomore forward Hunter Mickelson, who scored a career-high 16 points against Robert Morris, said the players understand they need to stay sharp tonight. Mickelson blocks a shot during Arkansas' game against Houston last November at Verizon Arena. The Razorbacks have lost three straight games in North Little Rock.
Sophomore forward Hunter Mickelson, who scored a career-high 16 points against Robert Morris, said the players understand they need to stay sharp tonight. Mickelson blocks a shot during Arkansas' game against Houston last November at Verizon Arena. The Razorbacks have lost three straight games in North Little Rock.

— The Arkansas men’s basketball team consistently has drawn enthusiastic crowds for its annual visits to Verizon Arena in North Little Rock, but the fans haven’t had much to cheer about in recent seasons.

Arkansas is 1-5 in its past six games at Verizon Arena, including three consecutive losses, most recently to Houston 87-78 last season in front of an announced crowd of 11,688.

The Razorbacks (6-4) will try and put on a better show in Verizon Arena when they play Alabama A&M (2-6) at 7 tonight.

“It’s a different year and a different team, and I think our guys have steadily improved,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said. “I think the big key is not letting them look too far down the road.”

The Razorbacks, who beat Robert Morris University 79-74 Thursday night in Walton Arena, are playing their final game before getting a few days off for Christmas. Their next game is Dec. 29 against Northwestern (La.) State.

“They can’t look past this game and think it’s merry Christmas already,” Anderson said. “We’re going to be playing against an A&M team that has nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

Sophomore forward Hunter Mickelson, who scored a career-high 16 points against Robert Morris, said the players understand they need to stay sharp tonight. Anderson stressed the point to them in the locker room after the Robert Morris game.

“Coach kind of was talking about some of the guys checking out before Christmas, but no one’s like that,” Mickelson said. “We’re all in. We’ll get Christmas when it comes, but right now we’re focused on the game.”

Arkansas won its first two games at Verizon Arena, then known as Alltel Arena, during the 1999-2000 season, beating Texas-Pan American and Centenary. The Razorbacks are 3-8 in the building since then. The losses have been to nationally ranked Illinois (twice) and Oklahoma State as well as Baylor and Texas Tech, but Arkansas also has lost to Appalachian State and Alabama-Birmingham along with Houston.

“Yeah, things might have happened in the past, but this is a whole new team,” Mickelson said. “So hopefully we’ll be able to go down there and get it done.”

Junior guard Fred Gulley said the Razorbacks will be ready.

“It’s a quick turnaround, so we’ve got to make sure we get our bodies ready, and mentally stay focused,” Gulley said. “We’ll worry about Christmas next week.”

Anderson said he likes the idea of playing in Verizon Arena and that he wants it to be “a pit” for tonight’s game.

“We’re taking our team to our fans,” Anderson said. “Those people come out and support us and give us some great energy. I’m sure Verizon Arena will be rocking.”

Tonight’s game Arkansas vs. Alabama A&M WHEN 7 p.m. Central WHERE Verizon Arena, North Little Rock TELEVISION RSN telecast: KATV, Channel 7, Little Rock; KFTA, Channel 24, Fayetteville; KAIT, Channel 8, Jonesboro

Sports, Pages 21 on 12/22/2012

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