Bob Holt is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy, Biletnikoff Award and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt was awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year in 2000 and 2015.
Arkansas isn’t looking ahead
Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson yells to the referee during the first half of a NCAA college basketball game against Clemson Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Gareth Patterson)
FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas’ men’s basketball team has seen its share of big-name opponents early in the season with games against California, Minnesota, Gonzaga and Clemson.
Even some of the less notable teams the Razorbacks have played - Louisiana-Lafayette (6-3) and SMU (8-2) - have good records.
But the schedule is lightening up considerably, starting tonight when Arkansas (6-2) plays Savannah State (2-8) at Walton Arena. The Tigers are mired in a six game losing streak after falling 55-50 at Northern Iowa on Tuesday night.
It appears to be the kind of game where the Razorbacks could be caught overlooking their opponent, especially with final exams looming.
ARKANSAS VS. SAVANNAH STATE
WHEN 7 p.m.
WHERE Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville
RECORDS Arkansas 6-2, Savannah State 2-8
SERIES Arkansas leads 1-0
RADIO Razorback Sports Network
TV Razorback Sports Network on KATV, Channel 7, in Little Rock; KNWA, Channel 51, in Fayetteville and KAIT, Channel 8, in Jonesboro.
“We’re a team that can’t afford to do that,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said. “I’ve tried to get across to our guys that we can’t take anyone lightly.
“We’re a team that’s continuing to progress and build, so part of that process is no matter who you play, you want to to come prepared. It’s more about what we’re doing as opposed to what another team is doing, so we’ll keep their attention.”
Anderson said he expects every game to be tough to win, regardless of the opponent.
“We played Lafayette, and it was a dogfight,” Anderson said, referring to the Razorbacks pulling away late to win 76-63 on Nov. 15. “So you can’t look at names and jerseys, because on any given night anyone can beat anyone.”
Arkansas freshman forward Bobby Portis said Anderson has told players the next game always is their championship game.
“We’re not worried about the name of the school,” Portis said. “We’re just trying to go out there and get better each game.”
After tonight’s game, the Razorbacks will face Tennessee-Martin, South Alabama, High Point and Texas-San Antonio before opening SEC play at Texas A&M on Jan. 8.
“We just need to go out there and get better, try and execute what we do, what we’re going to be using in SEC play,” Arkansas junior forward Alandise Harris said. “Just get better at it and build on it.
“We need to get everything almost perfect. We need to be clicking 100 percent by the time January gets here.”
Anderson said it’s important for the Razorbacks to raise their intensity level on defense to create more turnovers that lead to shots. Arkansas is averaging 59.6 field-goal attempts. They have taken 475 shots - two more than their opponents.
“I want to shoot almost 70, 80 times, so I think our defense has really got to turn up the pressure,” Anderson said. “I think we can be a lot more assertive, a lot more aggressive.”
Anderson said he wants the Razorbacks to play faster.
“But there’s a saying, ‘Be quick, but don’t be in a hurry,’ so maybe it’s a build-up to it,” he said. “That’s the process. These guys are learning how to run. Not necessarily run and gun, but run and execute.”
Arkansas had just two fast break points against Clemson, on Portis’ layup in the final seconds when he got ahead of the defense and caught a long pass.
“We won, but we didn’t really play our style at all,” Harris said. “We’ve got to get the tempo up on defense. We’ve got to jump the passing lanes, get some steals and run our press good. That will turn the whole tempo up.”
Savannah State is coached by Horace Broadnax, who played at Georgetown for John Thompson.
“They spread the floor and try to shorten the game to give themselves a chance to win,” Anderson said. “So it means we have to ratchet up our defense, turn up the pressure and try to create some havoc while at the same time protecting the rim.
“I thought we got after Clemson but didn’t do a great job of protecting the rim when those guys attacked us. Clemson didn’t make many jump shots, but they had a lot of layups and dunks, so that’s something we’ve really tried to address in practice the last couple of days.”
Sports, Pages 20 on 12/12/2013