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 view SEC as road to future
Auburn's Josh Wallace (11) defends Arkansas' Rickey Scott (3) during an NCAA college basketball game on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, at Auburn Arena in Auburn, Ala. The Razorbacks beat the Tigers 83-75.(AP Photo/Al.com, Julie Bennett)
COLLEGE STATION, Texas - Two months into the season, Arkansas finally will play its first road game.
“We have everything to prove,” Razorbacks senior guard Kikko Haydar said. “We haven’t done anything yet, and we’re excited for the opportunity. We know how the past has gone, and we’re ready to break through and start something new.”
The Razorbacks (11-2) hope to start winning on the road when they open SEC play against Texas A&M (9-4) at 8 tonight in Reed Arena. Arkansas is 2-18 in road games the previous two seasons, with both victories coming at Auburn, where the Razorbacks don’t play this season.
Arkansas at Texas A&M
WHEN 8 p.m. Central
WHERE Reed Arena, College Station, Texas
RECORDS Arkansas 11-2, Texas A&M 9-4
SERIES Arkansas leads 97-52
TV Fox Sports South
In Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson’s three seasons, the Razorbacks are 3-24 in out-of state games, including 1-2 this season at the Maui Invitational, where they beat Minnesota and lost to California and Gonzaga.
“Going around, all you hear is road this, road that,” Arkansas senior forward Coty Clarke said. “When it gets here, you’ll know that we’ve fixed that. It’s going to change in order for us to be what we’re going to be.”
The Razorbacks have had an influx of talent inside with the addition of junior transfer forward Alandise Harris and freshmen Bobby Portis and Moses Kingsley, and they insist this is a team better equipped to win on the road because of its depth and versatility.
Twelve players are averaging between 25.3 and 11.2 minutes, and Arkansas is averaging an SEC-high 87.2 points despite sophomore forward Michael Qualls being the highest-scoring at 13.7 points. Ten players have scored nine or more points in a game, with six scoring 15 or more, led by highs of 21 by Harris, Qualls and junior guard Ky Madden.
“We’ve got a new team, and we’ve got a new attitude,” Arkansas senior guard Fred Gulley said. “We approach everything differently. We’re going to take our show on the road. We’re not too worried about where we’re playing. We’re more focused on what we’re doing and being prepared and playing basketball the way we know how to play.
“If we do all the those things right, it doesn’t matter where we’re playing.”
The Razorbacks have won seven consecutive games, matching the longest streak of Anderson’s tenure, but those victories were in the state against unranked teams.
“Our guys feel good about themselves,” Anderson said. “We’ve been playing some good basketball, so let’s hope it’s a continuance of what we’re doing.”
Arkansas took a five-game winning streak into last season’s SEC opener at Texas A&M when the Razorbacks lost 69-51. The Aggies out rebounded the Razorbacks 51-27, and Arkansas made 4 of 15 free throws and 3 of 15 three-pointers.
Texas A&M was ahead by as many as 23 points in the second half after leading 29-24 at halftime.
“I don’t even like thinking about it,” Arkansas senior guard Rickey Scott said. “It was an OK first half, and then they just put it to us in the second half. We’ve just got to go in thinking we’ve got to take the fight to them.”
Aggies Coach Billy Kennedy said he isn’t thinking about Arkansas in terms of past road struggles.
“I think this is a different Arkansas team than the last two years,” Kennedy said. “It’s a veteran team. Mike’s had them now for three years.”
Texas A&M is 9-1 at home, but the loss was a bad one - 61-41 to North Texas on Dec. 31. It was the Aggies’ first game in 10 days and they shot 30 percent from the field (15 of 50), including 4 of 18 on three-pointers.
“Probably a little rustiness on A&M’s part,” Anderson said. “They’ve done well on defending the home court. I’m sure they’ll be really excited to play Arkansas. We tend to bring the best out of teams, and I don’t think this will be any different.”
Anderson said he is eager to see how the Razorbacks respond to adversity on the road when they encounter it tonight.
“We’re going to get punched in the mouth, and we’ll see if we can punch back,” he said. “That’s what these games are about. You’ll find out a little bit more about your basketball team, where you are at this junction of the season.”
Sports, Pages 19 on 01/08/2014