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 a voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 basketball poll. Holt has been awarded Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year twice.
Road will challenge ranked Hogs
Arkansas coach Mike Anderson points to players during a game against Tennessee on Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas Razorbacks are ranked in The Associated Press top 25 poll for the first time in three seasons, but they’ve got work to do on the road this week to stay there.
The No. 22 Razorbacks (11-2, 1-0 SEC) play at Mississippi State (12-1, 0-0) tonight and at Auburn (12-1, 0-0) on Saturday.
The University of Arkansas, Fayetteville beat Tennessee 95-93 in overtime Saturday to earn its first AP ranking on Monday since being No. 18 in the final poll of the 2014-2015 season.
Tennessee dropped from No. 19 to No. 23 after losing to the Razorbacks.
Arkansas takes a six-game winning streak into Humphrey Coliseum — where the Bulldogs are 11-0 this season — but all of those victories were at home.
The Razorbacks went 2-1 at the Phil Knight Classic in Portland, Ore., but in their only true road game they were pounded 91-65 at Houston on Dec. 2.
“One thing we have to do is just stay together on the road,” Arkansas senior guard Daryl Macon said. “We can’t shy away from each other. We can’t shy away from the moment. We have to take coaching and play hard.”
Houston shot 51.8 percent (29 of 56) from the field against Arkansas and hit 10 of 21 three-pointers.
“We’ve got to bring our defense anywhere we go, and this game we didn’t do that,” Razorbacks senior guard Anton Beard said after the game.
The Cougars were the more aggressive team from the start in jumping ahead 11-0 and staying in control the entire game.
“We’ve got to match the intensity,” Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said of what it will take to beat a fired-up home team. “The sense of urgency has got to be there.
“We’re going to get punched. We’ve got to punch back. And then I think we cannot panic. We’ve got to deal with the adversity.
“If you’re down, you want to chip away, chip away at a lead. Come down and execute. Get stops on defense.”
The Razorbacks are shooting 50.6 percent on the season, but shot a season-low 34.5 percent (19 of 55) at Houston.
“Shooting cures a lot of ills when you’re on the road,” Anderson said.
Mississippi State is going for its third consecutive victory over Arkansas and returns four players who combined to score 62 points when the Bulldogs won 84-78 in Walton Arena last season.
“They were a young basketball team last year and came in here and really played well against us,” Anderson said. “They shot the ball well, rebounded the ball well. They were a much more physical basketball team than we were, and now you can add on being a year older.
“They play a lot of guys. They’re defending, they’re scoring. They’re playing with a lot of confidence. So it’s going to be a tremendous challenge, but it’s a great opportunity for us to go out and see if we can play a lot better than we did the last time we went on the road.”
Guard Quinndary Weatherspoon scored 25 points against the Razorbacks last season and hit 6 of 7 three-pointers. This season he’s averaging 14.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.6 assists.
“He can create for himself,” Anderson said of the 6-4 junior. “They do a good job of running him off a lot of different screens.
“He’s a versatile player. Very athletic. He’s one of those guys who’s real steady. He’s a good passer, a tremendous rebounder at that size.”
Anderson said he’s confident the Razorbacks will play better tonight on the road than they did at Houston.
“That’s a month removed,” he said. “We’ve done well in terms of learning from the miscues that we’ve had. When we didn’t play well, we always come back.”
Senior guard Jaylen Barford said after the Houston game that the Razorbacks weren’t themselves. A key tonight, he said, is starting well.
“I think just playing hard coming out the gate,” Barford said. “That’s going to be every road game for us. Not starting off sluggish and just play with heart on the road, because we know it’s going to be tough.”
After playing in front of energetic crowds at home, the Razorbacks have to depend on each other to win on the road, Anderson said.
“It won’t be in the confines of Bud Walton Arena,” he said. “We’re going to be all we have. Our team, our managers, the few fans we have there.
“So we’ve got to be dialed in and hopefully take our defense to the next level.”
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