Hogs talk tough going into SEC opener

By: Nate Allen
Published: Monday, January 6, 2014
Texas A&M guard Alex Caruso drives past Arkansas defender Mardracus Wade at Reed Arena on Jan. 9, 2013. The Aggies defeated the Razorbacks 69-51 in the conference opener last year.
Photo by Texas A&M Athletics
Texas A&M guard Alex Caruso drives past Arkansas defender Mardracus Wade at Reed Arena on Jan. 9, 2013. The Aggies defeated the Razorbacks 69-51 in the conference opener last year.

FAYETTEVILLE - Word out of College Station, Texas, is that Texas A&M fans ought to keep celebrating another Johnny Manziel bowl victory right through a basketball season they will prefer to forget.

Losing by 20 at Reed Arena to North Texas, as A&M’s basketball team did last Tuesday, would tend to keep the Aggies faithful focused on reveling in their football team long into the new year after Manziel led it to a comeback victory over Duke on New Year’s Eve at the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

The Aggies open the SEC basketball season Wednesday night at Reed Arena against Arkansas.

The funny thing is, this time last year A&M’s basketball team was reeling from a ignominious 53-51 loss at home to SWAC member Southern University, but that was ignored mostly because Aggies fans were still celebrating Manziel’s conquest of Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.

Unexpectedly, Aggies fans got to celebrate basketball, too.

An Arkansas Razorbacks team that was perhaps anticipating easy pickings was drubbed, 69-51, in last season’s SEC opener against A&M.

Several Arkansas players said after Saturday night’s 104-71 rout of Texas-San Antonio at Walton Arena that they haven’t forgotten the disaster at A&M, even though they had just concluded an 11-2 nonconference run with seven consecutive victories.

Coach Mike Anderson doesn’t want his players forgetting aboutA&M’s potential, but he said Saturday in a postgame radio interview that he doesn’t want his Hogs dwelling on last season’s outcome at College Station, either.

“We opened up down there last year, and I told our guys this has nothing to do with what took place down there last year,” Anderson said. “Different year and a different team. That’s the key, take this show and take it on down the road.”

It is a different team with the addition of freshmen 6-10 centers Bobby Portis (19 points, 10 rebounds and 23 minutes against Texas-San Antonio) and Moses Kingsley and 6-6 transfer forward Alandise Harris from the University of Houston, who have mixed in well with a team co-captained by senior guard Kikko Haydar and senior forward Coty Clarke.

It’s also benefitted by the improvement of key returnees like sophomore guards Michael Qualls and Anthlon Bell and junior guard Ky Madden, as well as role-players such as senior guard Fred Gulley, who is in his second season with the Razorbacks after transferring from Oklahoma State.

Senior guard Rickey Scott said it’s a tougher team, too.

The three-year letterman’s personal character was tested earlier this season after being benched for a while and then earning his minutes back through hard practices, and he said after Saturday’s game that the rest of the Razorbacks are tougher this season because they are being tougher on each other yet staying positive while doing so, unlike past teams for which he played.

“I think we are a way better bonding team,” Scott said. “We get on each other and it doesn’t matter. We don’t take offense. We don’t cry about it. It’s like, ‘I see where you are going, and we are going to help each other along the way.’

“I think when we step out on this road game, you are going to see a big difference.”

Sports, Pages 16 on 01/06/2014