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Arkansas hopes to bounce back against at Bud Walton Arena
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson talks with Alandise Harris, left, and Michael Qualls during the second half of the game against UTSA in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville on Saturday January 4, 2013.
FAYETTEVILLE Mike Anderson spent a good portion of his news conference leading into Arkansas' game at Texas A&M laying out the reasons why this year's team would be better on the road.
The result, a 69-53 loss to the Aggies, turned out to be more of the same for the Razorbacks — who have won just one road Southeastern Conference game in each of the past two seasons.
As was the case for much of Anderson's first two seasons, Arkansas (11-3, 0-1 SEC) must now find a way to bounce back from a road disappointment — beginning with Saturday's home game against No. 10 Florida (12-2, 1-0).
The Razorbacks have won 23 straight games in Bud Walton Arena, including a win over the Gators last season.
They'll need every bit of the home edge if they are to shake the after-effects of the Texas A&M loss, a defeat that snapped Arkansas' seven-game winning streak and once again raised questions about whether this team is ready to snap the program's five-year NCAA tournament drought.
"It humbles you," Anderson said. "You think you're playing well, you think you're a pretty good basketball team. We won so many games in a row. Now all the sudden you get smacked in the face. To me, this will be the true test of our team, what kind of team we're going to be."
Anderson, the former Arkansas assistant under Nolan Richardson who left Missouri to return to the Razorbacks, has never missed the NCAA tournament in three straight seasons as a head coach. He led Alabama-Birmingham to the tournament in his second season in 2003-04, and he guided the Tigers to the regional semifinals — and a 31-7 record — in his third year there.
Arkansas, after a disappointing 19-13 record last season, appeared on track for Anderson's usual third-season turnaround leading into the Texas A&M game.
The Razorbacks, led by the emergence of sophomore high-flyer Michael Qualls and freshman standout Bobby Portis, led the SEC in scoring with an average of 87.2 points per game and had improved their 3-point shooting from 30 percent last season to 37.1 percent .
However, they shot just 4 of 19 (21.1 percent) from behind the arc against the Aggies — as well as 7 of 14 on free throws — and offered little resistance in the second half while falling to 2-16 on the road in the SEC under Anderson.
"It was a pretty frustrating second half," Arkansas junior Alandise Harris said. "... We let the lead get too far out of hand to where we had too many consecutive mistakes in a row. It just got too far out of hand."
The Razorbacks won't have to look long to find reason to regain their confidence against Florida, or on Tuesday when they host No. 14 Kentucky. Arkansas defeated both teams in Bud Walton Arena last season — part of an undefeated conference run at home — and it hasn't lost at home since a defeat to Michigan early last season.
"It's like an extra edge," Harris said. "People already have a little bit on their mind because they're already scared of the pressure. They know that' it's very hard to win here."
If Arkansas is to challenge the Gators, who have won six straight after a setback at Connecticut on Dec. 2, it likely must have improvement from its two leading scorers, Qualls and Portis.
The two combined to finish just 4 of 22 from the field in the loss to the Aggies, including a 1-of-12 effort from Qualls.
Anderson, for one, fully expects both to bounce back — just as he expects the rest of the Razorbacks to perform better in their home arena.
"To me, this will be the true test of our team, what kind of team we're going to be," Anderson said.