UA embraces time away from home

By: Bob Holt
Published: Saturday, December 2, 2017
Arkansas' Trey Thompson (1) during an NCAA college basketball game during the Phil Knight Invitational tournament in Portland, Ore., Friday, Nov. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Timothy J. Gonzalez)
Photo by Associated Press
Arkansas' Trey Thompson (1) during an NCAA college basketball game during the Phil Knight Invitational tournament in Portland, Ore., Friday, Nov. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Timothy J. Gonzalez)

HOUSTON -- After traveling more than 4,000 miles to Portland, Ore., and back home to Fayetteville last week, the Arkansas Razorbacks' basketball team is on the road again to play former Southwest Conference rival Houston at 6:30 tonight.

The Razorbacks (5-1) and Cougars (5-1) are meeting at Texas Southern's H&PE Arena, where Houston is playing its home games while Hofheinz Pavilion is undergoing a $60 million renovation.

After the Razorbacks went 2-1 at the Phil Knight Invitational -- also known as the PK80 --by beating Oklahoma and Connecticut and losing to North Carolina, the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville is playing a fourth consecutive game away from Walton Arena before the SEC schedule for the first time in 11 years.

During the 2006-2007 season the Razorbacks beat Southern Illinois, Marist and West Virginia to win the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla., then lost at Missouri in a four-game stretch in November.

Arkansas will go 16 days between home games in which the Razorbacks beat Fresno State on Nov. 19 and play Colorado State on Tuesday.

"It's different, but it's the schedule we had in front of us," Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said. "We had an opportunity to go and play the PK80, and we couldn't turn that down."

The Razorbacks are playing at Houston in the second game of a home-and-home series after they beat the Cougars 84-72 in Walton Arena last season.

"I'm sure they'll be fired up and ready for us," Anderson said.

The Razorbacks said playing so many games away from home early in the season is a plus.

"I like it," senior forward Trey Thompson said. "I think it gives us a chance to get out of our comfort zone and see where we're at as a group.

"Without the fans at Bud Walton, we're going to create our own energy. It's kind of getting us ready for the SEC Tournament or the NCAA Tournament. Getting us prepared for something bigger."

After opening SEC play at home against Tennessee on Dec. 30, the Razorbacks' next two conference games are at Mississippi State on Jan. 2 and at Auburn on Jan. 6.

"It's a good thing to be away from home early because it'll help later, especially during the conference tournament or in a road game during conference play," Arkansas senior guard Jaylen Barford said. "Just having that confidence together is a good thing on the road."

Tonight will be the Razorbacks' first game in an opponent's city.

"I think we're ready," Barford said. "We were a pretty good road team last season. Having the seniors, we know what we can do on the road and know what we should do on the road."

Barford and Thompson are among seven players back from last season's team -- including five seniors -- that went 6-5 in road games.

"I think leadership is big on the road," Thompson said.

Houston is led by senior guard Rob Gray, who is averaging 23.6 points. He scored 22 against Arkansas last season.

"Rob Gray is what makes them go," Thompson said. "If we get the ball out of his hands and make other people make decisions, we'll be fine."

Anderson compared Gray to Barford (averaging 20.8 points) and Arkansas senior guard Daryl Macon (16.3).

"Some guys are wired to score," Anderson said. "Gray is a guy that can really go off the dribble, and he's got a great shot. He can get in there and hang and suspend. He shoots a lot of free throws."

Houston senior forward Devin Davis, averaging 10.3 points and 7.3 rebounds, played just three minutes against Arkansas last season after suffering a hand injury.

"Obviously, it affected them here," Anderson said. "I'm sure he's looking forward to this game."

After three games in four days in Portland, the Razorbacks said they're anxious to play for the first time in six days.

"We still have practice, and we treat our practice like games," Barford said. "I think we're preparing ourselves every day and just keep pushing each other."

Anderson said he doesn't want the Razorbacks to feel too good about their 102-67 victory over Connecticut on Sunday as they go into the Houston game.

"I'm one of those coaches that tries to keep them humble," Anderson said. "No, I don't try, I do keep them humble. So you can imagine the intensity in practice.

"The worst thing they can do sometimes is get a pat on the back, especially when it's early in the year. People tell them how great they're playing. That was one game against UConn. We've got many, many more games."

The Phil Knight Invitational had two, eight-team brackets. The field included nine teams ESPN projects to make the NCAA Tournament: Arkansas, Duke, Michigan State, North Carolina, Florida, Gonzaga, Texas, Oklahoma and Oregon.

"It had the appearance of an NCAA Tournament really, when you think about the games that were played, the teams that were up there," Anderson said. "Even as a coach, I have to pull back and say, 'Hey, we're only in November. Let's get to December and January and February.'

"The biggest key is you want to continue to get better."

Today’s game

ARKANSAS MEN AT HOUSTON

WHEN 6:30 p.m.

WHERE Texas Southern H&PE Arena, Houston

RECORDS Arkansas 5-1; Houston 5-1 SERIES Arkansas leads 22-17 TV CBS Sports Network RADIO Razorback Sports Network

Sports on 12/02/2017

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