Hogs open brutal, testing stretch

By: Bob Holt
Published: Friday, November 23, 2012
Rickey Scott and the Razorbacks will play the first of two games in Las Vegas on Friday.
Photo by Anthony Reyes
Rickey Scott and the Razorbacks will play the first of two games in Las Vegas on Friday.

— The next five basketball games for Arkansas’ men’s basketball team look like an NCAA Tournament run.

The Razorbacks (3-0) begin one of their toughest nonconference stretches ever when they play Arizona State (3-0) at 6 tonight in the first of two games in Las Vegas.

The Razorbacks then play No. 14 Creighton or Wisconsin on Saturday night. They come home to play No. 6 Syracuse next Friday night and Oklahoma on Dec. 4, before playing at No. 4 Michigan on Dec. 8.

“The only time you play those kind of games, I guess, would be in the NCAA Tournament,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said. “We’re going to be tested often, and we’re going to be presented with challenges. I think the important thing for our guys is to stay focused one day at a time and one practice at a time.

“Obviously, we’ll find out more about ourselves in these particular games.”

There are only three comparable five-game nonconference stretches the Razorbacks have played in the past 46 seasons:

In 1966-1967, Arkansas went 1-4 with losses to Memphis, Oklahoma State, Southern Cal and Michigan and a victory over Arizona.

In 1980-1981, the Razorbacks were 3-2 with victories over Missouri, LSU and Southwest Missouri with losses to North Carolina and Michigan.

In 1986-1987, they were 2-3with losses to Virginia, Southwest Missouri and Pittsburgh and victories over Ohio State and California.

“I think playing tough teams like this is going to help us further on in the SEC,” Arkansas junior guard Rickey Scott said. “It’s going to help us in the SEC road games.”

Arizona State, like Arkansas, has opened with three consecutive home victories. They have a common opponent in Florida A&M. The Sun Devils beat the Rattlers 97-70 Sunday, and the Razorbacks beat them 89-60 Tuesday night.

“I’m not picking a winner, but that’s just the kind of ball that you want to see,” Florida A&M Coach Clemon Johnson said of the Arkansas-Arizona State match up. “It’s going down to the last four or five minutes of the ballgame.

“Arkansas’ continuous pressure could wear them down. I don’t think they can go as deep as Arkansas, and that’s going to make a difference in the ballgame.”

The Razorbacks made 7 of 17 three-pointers against the Rattlers.

“If Arkansas shoots the ball like that, Arizona State has their hands full,” Johnson said. “But Arizona State has the shooters, too.”

The Sun Devils are led by freshman point guard Jahii Carson, who is averaging 18.7 points and 5.3 assists per game. Jordan Bachynski, a 7-2 junior, is averaging 13.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 7.3 blocked shots.

Sophomore forward Jonathan Gilling, 6-7, is averaging 11.0 points and has hit 8 of 20 three-pointers.

Six Arizona State players are averaging 9.0 or more points per game.

“It’s going to give us a good gauge of where our guys are as we play against teams our same size, and in Arizona State’s case, they’re probably going to be bigger than we are and just as athletic,” Anderson said. “It will be nice to see how we respond.”

Arizona State also has beaten Central Arkansas (79-64) and Cornell (64-53) in addition to Florida A&M.

“I think it’s been a great start for us, good momentum,” Sun Devils Coach Herb Sendek said after the Sun Devils beat Cornell on Tuesday night. “Obviously, we face a great challenge this weekend.

“It’s going to be perfectly timed for our team, and it’s going to tell us more about ourselves. But I think we’ve gotten out of the gates exactly how we wanted to.”

Sendek said Arizona State won’t prepare any differently for Arkansas than it did its first three opponents.

“All you have to do is watch college basketball every night - there is no such thing as an easy night,” Sendek said. “If you think that, you’re just being a fool. You have to earn every game.

“We all have these phones now with scores coming constantly, and it’s every game. If those games don’t end up in upsets, they’re close. Our deal is, we respect all of our opponents. We prepare with everything we have. You have to be all in for every game.”

Arkansas junior forward Marshawn Powell said the Razorbacks are taking the same approach with the level of competition rising.

“Those are good teams,” Powell said. “We just have to go into every game and do what we do, run our stuff and execute.”

The next five games could figure prominently in Arkansas’ NCAA Tournament hopes depending on what the Razorbacks do in SEC play.

“We had better be ready,” Anderson said.

Sports, Pages 29 on 11/23/2012