Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
Hogs guarding against letdown
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson directs his players from the bench during the second half of play against Southern Methodist Monday, Nov. 18, 2013, in Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas got the high-profile road victory it desperately needed with Thursday’s 71-67 overtime victory at No. 17 Kentucky.
Now comes the danger.
Less than 42 hours after the Razorbacks stunned Kentucky to shake off a nine game losing skid in Rupp Arena that dated to their national championship season of 1994, Arkansas faces a Georgia team today that has been a surprise in the SEC.
The Bulldogs (16-11, 10-5 SEC), who stand alone in third place, have had two extra days to prepare for the sold-out 3 p.m. game at Walton Arena following their 71-56 home victory against Missouri on Tuesday.
The Razorbacks (19-9, 8-7), who are starting to gain traction in NCAA Tournament at-large talk after winning seven of their past eight games, were met by a crowd of fans at the airport and then by the cheerleaders and more fans after arriving on campus from Kentucky late Thursday night.
Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson, who said his team is now more fully engaged in “attack mode,” has to guard against the Razorbacks letting the euphoria of the victory at Rupp Arena lead to a letdown against the Bulldogs.
“That’s going to be the challenge of my coaching staff and hopefully the leadership on our basketball team, to focus on the next game,” Anderson said. “It shouldn’t take much for Georgia to get your attention. Why? Because they’ve been playing well. … They beat us.
“You don’t want to have the hangover effect. That game’s over with. It ended at midnight. Of course, you know the guys are feeling good about themselves, but it’s a quick, quick turnaround.”
If not for No. 1 ranked Florida, which is 15-0 in the SEC, today’s game would match the hottest teams in the SEC.Georgia has won six of its past seven games to pull two games clear of a four-team pack in fourth place.
“Georgia, in their nonconference schedule, they had some bumps along the way there, but they’ve kind of put it together here in conference play,” Anderson said. “I’m sure they’re going to come in and play like they’ve all been playing throughout the year.”
Georgia Coach Mark Fox said his team took Wednesday off, so the Bulldogs’ head start over Arkansas in preparation was only one day.
“We just keep getting better,” Fox said. “That’s been the focus of this group from Day One. Let’s get better every day, every week. They’ve been very invested in that process.”
Fox called the Razorbacks’ victory at Kentucky on Thursday a high-level game.
“Arkansas is playing super,” he said. “They’re playing really well at both ends, and it’s a great win for them.”
Arkansas veterans Coty Clarke and Alandise Harris said the Razorbacks had to turn the page on their sweep of the Wildcats and focus on nothing except Georgia.
“We’re not worried about the postseason,” Harris said. “We’re just worried about Georgia.”
The Bulldogs had a quirk in their schedule that pitted them against all five of the teams they were playing for the second time this season as the final five games of the regular season. Georgia has a chance to sweep all five, having already beaten South Carolina and Missouri twice with Arkansas, Mississippi State and LSU remaining.
Georgia rallied from a five-point deficit in the final five minutes to beat Arkansas 66-61 in overtime Jan. 18 in Athens, Ga. The Razorbacks, who are 2-2 in overtime games, had the last shot in regulation, but Ky Madden’s three-pointer went awry and Georgia scored the first seven points of overtime.
The Bulldogs played that game at their preferred pace - it was 52-52 in regulation - and won despite shooting31 percent, mainly because they crushed Arkansas 56-34 on rebounds.
“They did a good job of attacking the glass on us, just throwing it up there and going and getting it,” Anderson said. “That’s going to be the task at hand for us, to continue to defend and put bodies on bodies and try to create tempo. They would love the game to be in the 60s.”
Arkansas’ only loss since a 14-point road defeat at LSU on Feb. 1 was a one-point loss at Missouri, as Anderson has tapped deeply into his bench to help the Razorbacks’ running and pressing style put pressure on opponents.
Kentucky center Willie Cauley-Stein, whose put back shots constituted a large part of the Wildcats’ offense against Arkansas, offered up a stark assessment of how the Razorbacks are making their move.
“They’re reckless,” Cauley-Stein said. “They’re a reckless team. With other teams that are more organized, you know what they’re going to run and you know what they’re going to do at certain times, it’s way easier to play because you know they’re not going to take a contested three.
“This team, you have no idea. They could pull up from half court, and then they’ve got a 50-50 chance it’s going to go in. It’s super hard to play against teams like that where the coach just lets them ball. Those guys do a really good job at what they do.” Democrat-Gazette staff writer Bob Holt contributed information for this report.
Today’s game ARKANSAS MEN VS. GEORGIA WHEN 3 p.m.
WHERE Walton Arena, Fayetteville RECORDS Arkansas 19-9, 8-7 SEC;
Georgia 16-11, 10-5 SERIES Arkansas leads 17-14 RADIO Razorback Sports Network TELEVISION SEC TV on KATV Channel 7 in Little Rock, KHOG/KHBS Channels 40/29 in Fayetteville and Fort Smith and KAIT Channel 8 in Jonesboro.
TICKETS None available, game is sold out
Sports, Pages 21 on 03/01/2014