Border Battle

Arkansas (3-1) welcomes in an Oklahoma squad that has lost three straight Wednesday night, but Razorback head coach John Pelphrey thinks the Sooners (3-3) are still a good club.

Oklahoma may have lost to Chaminade and dropped all three games at last week's EA Sports Maui Invitational, but that doesn't keep Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey from being on edge.

He believes his Razorbacks (3-1) will see the best the Sooners (3-3) have to offer Wednesday night in a 7 p.m. game at Bud Walton Arena.

"They are going to be ready to go," Pelphrey said. "Any time you go to a tournament like that you learn a lot about your team. I am sure they are understanding a little bit better what they have got to work on and where their strengths are. I have to think they are coming back a better basketball team."

Oklahoma head coach Jeff Capel, whose team lost to quality foes Kentucky (76-64) and Virginia (74-58) before falling to the NCAA Division II Silverswords, agrees with that.

"What we learned is how we have to compete every possession, be focused every possession, concentrate every possession," Capel said. "I thought we did some good things out there in moments in all three games. Now it's getting them to understand that has to be who we are all the time."

Capel is hoping his team won't dwell on going 0-for-3 in Hawaii and not scoring more than 64 points in any of those games.

"Hopefully our guys desire to win and desire to get better, improve and to learn outweighs the desire to feel sorry for yourself," Capel said. "That's something we can't do and no one is going to do for us. I tell our guys that life is not going to feel sorry for you. All these lessons we can learn through this game (of basketball) are lessons that are going to help these guys when the ball stops bouncing. It's my responsibility as a coach to try to enforce those lessons to them."

Oklahoma was one of the nation's elite teams with a 30-6 mark in 2008-2009 with current NBA player Blake Griffin leading the way, but went just 13-18 last season.

The Sooners lost Tiny Gallon, Willie Warren and Tommy Mason-Griffin off of that team as all three turned professional after the extremely disappointing campaign.

"Our next two games are at Arizona (Sunday) and at Arkansas so it doesn't get any easier for us," Capel said. "…We are such a young group and such a fragile group."

The Sooners, whose wins have been over Coppin State, North Carolina Central and Texas Southern, are led this season by 6-5, 209-pound senior guard Cade Davis (16.7), 6-8, 231-pound sophomore forward Andrew Fitzgerald (13.3, 5.2) and 6-4, 212-pound sophomore guard Steven Pledger (10.5).

"Cade Davis has really, really - you can tell - worked hard on his body, worked hard on his game," Pelphrey said. "He stands out to be somebody who has really gotten better.

"I think the same thing with Fitzgerald up front," Pelphrey added. "It's a good combination of outside-inside. Pledger has tremendous size at the guard spot. He has a chance to score big numbers in a short period of time. With those type of weapons on offense, our defense has to be very good."

The Sooners have been opening with a huge lineup featuring that trio joining 6-9, 208-pound junior center Nick Thompson (4.0, 6.0) and 6-6, 189-pound freshman guard Cameron Clark (5.5).

Capel is looking at starting New Orleans transfer Carl Blair (6-2, 209) – who actually got the nod at point guard against Chaminade – and bringing freshman Calvin Newell off the bench to back him up.

That would slide Pledger over to shooting guard.

"It's going to be a rotation between Carl and Calvin and at times Steven," Capel said. "As we go forward, hopefully we can keep Steven out of that position some and allow him to be a shooter and not have to think about trying to run our team.

"One thing I talked to Carl about is it's important for him to have more of a voice," Capel added. "Guys have to get used to his voice. That's something that can help us."

Pelphrey expects an up-tempo game.

"Transition defense is big, they are going to push the ball very hard and they are a good running team," Pelphrey said. "They are going to make sure Cade Davis gets a lot of opportunities. The ball is going to go inside and we are going to have to be able to defend that spot without fouling against the big fella and we are going to have to obviously take care of the basketball and find ways to score."

Arkansas is coming in off a 70-65 overtime loss to UAB Friday night in North Little Rock in a game that Razorback guard Jeff Peterson forced overtime with a 3-pointer at regulation buzzer.

But the home team got nothing going in overtime and ended the contest 3-of-21 from 3-point range and missing a ton of lay-ups.

The Razorbacks got a superb game from center Delvon Johnson (18 points, 13 rebounds) Friday night as a UAB defense dedicated to stopping junior guard Rotnei Clarke (2 of 9 from the field) did its job.

"That's probably not the way it is going to always be," Pelphrey said, "but that's the way it was that night. I thought the second half those guys (Arkansas' guards) made more of conscious effort to jam it inside to try and drive the ball."

Johnson (10.8, 8.8) showed off improved offensive moves during the contest while posting career highs for both points and rebounds.

"I think he is getting a consistent opportunity and he knows what it is like here, knows what I expect," Pelphrey said. "…He took care of business in the summer with how hard he worked, is getting an opportunity and is certainly putting himself in position to take care of it as well as he possibly can.

"The weight room has given him confidence, he has worked (on his offensive game), he is getting an opportunity and he is having some success," Pelphrey said. "I think all that stuff rolled into one."

Clarke (15.8), the leading scorer in Oklahoma prep history, is likely to join Johnson, sophomore guard Julysess Nobles (8.8), senior guard Marcus Britt (6.0) and sophomore forward Glenn Bryant (5.3, 4.3).

It's possible that sophomore standout Marshawn Powell (6.5), who averaged nearly 15 points last season, could grab one of those starting spots after seeing 25 minutes of action off the bench against UAB in his return from injury.

The Razorbacks upset then No. 4 Oklahoma, 96-88, in Fayetteville in 2008 only to get hammered, 67-47, last season in Norman.

Arkansas is averaging just 5,805 fans so far in three games at Bud Walton Arena, but this will be the first name opponent and so-called marquee match-up in Fayetteville this season.

"Marquee matchups and all the other stuff – I don't know," Pelphrey said. "Every one of them is big to me – huge – every single night. There is obviously some history between the two schools. I anticipate a good crowd."


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