UA likes extra helping of Saturday at Walton

By: Bob Holt
Published: Friday, August 25, 2017
Arkansas men's basketball media day and open practice on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Photo by Jason Ivester
Arkansas men's basketball media day and open practice on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- The Arkansas Razorbacks men's basketball team will play more SEC home games on Saturday than on the road for the first time since the 2012-2013 season.

The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville will play five SEC games Saturday in Walton Arena, according to the conference schedule announced Thursday, with four on the road.

It's the first time the Razorbacks have had five SEC Saturday home games since the conference expanded the schedule from 16 to 18 games.

The previous four seasons they played four Saturday home SEC games and five on the road. The flip means Arkansas should draw bigger crowds with an extra Saturday home date in conference play.

"That's something that we've been beating the drum about, too," Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said. "One thing about our fans is they show up and let's help our fans by having some of those games Saturday here.

"Now the challenge for our fans is to pack the Bud."

The Razorbacks play at home against Kentucky when the Wildcats visit Walton Arena Feb. 20 for a Tuesday night matchup.

Arkansas' five Saturday home SEC games are the conference opener against Tennessee Dec. 30 along with Missouri Jan. 13, Ole Miss Jan. 20, Vanderbilt Feb. 10 and Texas A&M Feb. 17.

The Razorbacks have six seniors back from last season's 26-10 team, led by guards Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon, and a highly-rated signing class including 6-11 freshman Daniel Gafford.

"We feel we have a very, very exciting team, a very experienced team, a team that's looking to take it to the next level," Anderson said. "Obviously, our fans help us do that.

The Razorbacks also have nonconference Saturday games in Walton Arena against Minnesota Dec. 9 and Oklahoma State Jan. 27 in the Big 12-SEC challenge.

"Having some of those games are going to take place on Saturday, where people can get here, we want Bud Walton to rock like it's never rocked before," Anderson said.

The Razorbacks will play three games at the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, Ore., over Thanksgiving weekend to highlight what Anderson said is his toughest nonconference schedule in 16 seasons as a head coach.

Arkansas opens on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 23, in Portland against Oklahoma, and then will play defending national champion North Carolina or the University of Portland in a second-round game. Their possible third-round opponents are Oregon, Michigan State, Connecticut or DePaul.

The Razorbacks are among 16 teams playing in two eight-team brackets in the tournament put together in celebration of NIke co-found Phil Knight's 80th birthday.

"I think starting off the bat you're right into a Sweet 16 thing," Anderson said. "So you're going to find out a whole lot about your team -- whether it be good or bad -- early on.

"It's a tremendous opportunity for our team and a great challenge as well. It's going to be big and TV is all over it."

Anderson said he hasn't talked to his players about a possible rematch with North Carolina in Portland. The Tar Heels beat Arkansas 72-65 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season in Greenville, S.C., when they rallied from a 65-60 deficit with less than three minutes to play.

"No, no, no, no, no," Anderson said of talking about getting another shot at the Tar Heels. "Have not. That's history.

"Obviously, that's sitting there. But Oklahoma, that will be the first opponent. Out focus is primarily going to be on them when that time comes."

Arkansas plays Samford, Bucknell and Fresno State at home before going to Portland.

Samford returns 12 players from last season's 20-16 team and has added Alabama transfer guard Justin Coleman, who scored 22 points at Walton Arena in the Razorbacks' 93-91 overtime victory against the Crimson Tide in 2015.

Bucknell returns its top nine scorers from last season's 26-9 team that played in the NCAA Tournament. Fresno State returns four starters from a 20-13 team that played in the NIT and lost on the road to champion TCU.

"Those are tough games, too," Anderson said. "Hopefully, it will get us prepared for what's going to take place."

Anderson said he didn't ask for a rematch with Oklahoma State, which beat the Razorbacks 97-71 in last season's Big 12-SEC Challenge game at Gallagher-Iba Arena.

"I think it's between the SEC and ESPN," Anderson said of setting the matchups. "We have no sort of say so as to who we're going to play."

Arkansas is playing Troy Dec. 16 at Verizon Arena in North Little Rock. The Trojans return 63 percent of their scoring from last season's team that finished 20-15 that won the Sun Belt Conference Tournament to earn an NCAA Tournament bid.

Colorado State, which returns players who accounted for 71 percent of last season's minutes for a 24-12 team, plays Araknsas Dec. 5 in Walton Arena.

California State-Bakersfield, which plays at Arkansas Dec. 27, went 25-10 last season and played in the NIT. The Roadrunners are coached by Rod Barnes, the former Ole Miss coach.

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"We're playing some of the best mid-majors," Anderson said. "You name it and we're playing those guys."

Sports on 08/25/2017

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