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.
Hogs are in mood for fight
Arkansas guard Michael Qualls (24) and forward Bobby Portis (10) celebrate after Arkansas defeated Vanderbilt 77-75 in an NCAA college basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)
FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas freshman forward Bobby Portis, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, hadn’t been born the last time the Razorbacks beat Kentucky at Rupp Arena.
Portis, 19, was born Feb. 10, 1995, a year and a day after Arkansas won 90-82 at Kentucky on Feb. 9, 1994, en route to winning the national championship.
The Razorbacks (18-9, 7-7SEC) will try to win in Rupp Arena for the first time in 20 years and break their nine-game losing streak at Kentucky when they play the No.17 Wildcats (21-6, 11-3) at 6 p.m. Thursday.
ESPN will televise the game nationally, as it did Jan. 14 at Walton Arena when Arkansas beat Kentucky 87-85 on Michael Qualls’ put back dunk with 0.2 seconds left in overtime.
Arkansas at No. 17 Kentucky
WHEN 6 p.m. Central Thursday
WHERE Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.
RECORDS Arkansas 18-9, 7-7 SEC; Kentucky 21-6, 11-3
“I think if we go in there on Thursday and pull out the victory, it will be big for our state and our ball club,” Portis said.
Winning at Kentucky also would be big for the Razorbacks’ NCAA Tournament hopes. They have won 5 of 6 games - including road victories at Vanderbilt and Mississippi State - to pull themselves into a seven-way tie for fourth-place in the SEC standings.
“Of course it’s going to be big, but I think it would be even bigger for us just to get another win,” said Qualls, a sophomore forward. “I’m more worried about us just getting the win in general.
“Just take away the Kentucky name. It could be anybody. We just need wins. We need them now and not later.”
Arkansas is trying to beat Kentucky twice in the same season for the first time. In eight previous seasons where the teams played twice - all included SEC Tournament match ups - they went 1-1 in 1993, 1994, 1995, 1999, 2000 and 2001 with the Wildcats going 2-0 in 1996 and 1998.
This is the first season the teams have played a home and-homes series in the regular season. They played in Fayetteville and Lexington, Ky., in 1993, but their Rupp Arena meeting came in the SEC Tournament.
Kentucky has a 509-63 record in Rupp Arena since it opened in 1976, including 15-1 this season. The Wildcats’ only home loss this season was to No. 1 Florida.
“They have the home court advantage,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said. “Somehow, we’ve got to figure out a way to negate that, where we can go in and make it an advantage for us.
“How do you do that? Go in and play some of the best basketball you’ve played all year. That’s what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to take the fight to Kentucky.”
The Razorbacks said they are packing more confidence on the road after their play over the past three weeks. Their only loss was at Missouri, 86-85, when Tigers guard Jabari Brown hit a game-winning basket with 10 seconds left.
“We feel real comfortable playing on the road,” said Arkansas sophomore guard Anthlon Bell, who scored a career-high 19 points in the Razorbacks’ 73-69 victory at Mississippi State last Saturday. “We feel like we can go anywhere and win right now.”
Mississippi State has lost nine consecutive games, but Arkansas had lost 12 in a row at Humphrey Coliseum before beating the Bulldogs.
“We’re playing well,” Anderson said. “This is the time of year you really want to have a lot of cylinders clicking.”
Seven Razorbacks have scored 11 or more points at least once in the past six games.
“We’re a dangerous basketball team,” Anderson said. “This is when you want to be playing some of your better basketball, and I think we’re going in that direction.”
Sports, Pages 19 on 02/26/2014