Taking On The Champs
Corliss Williamson isn't walking through that door and neither is Todd Day, Darrell Walker, Joe Kleine or Pat Bradley.
Scotty Thurman is, but only as a member of the support staff.
Still Arkansas' basketball team isn't just showing up in Hartford, Conn., on Saturday for a ESPN nationally televised date with defending NCAA champion UConn with a mindset of taking its lumps and going on.
So says Razorback head coach Mike Anderson and his young basketball team, whose game will tip-off at 2:15 p.m. CST Saturday as part of the SEC/Big East Challenge.
"It's the ultimate challenge, but it is also a great opportunity," Anderson said. "…It's a big-time challenge, an uphill challenge, but it is one our guys look forward to and I look forward to it as well."
The Razorbacks (5-1) do indeed face a formidable challenge in the Huskies (6-1), who return four significant players off that title team and have added a quartet of talented newcomers.
"It is a big challenge for us to see where we are at," Arkansas sophomore guard Mardracus Wade said. "Obviously UConn is a very good team, but we just have to come out and play hard and do what we do. We have to just go hard and be fearless. I think it will be a very exciting game."
While Arkansas can't match up physically inside with UConn, Anderson said the Razorbacks can do their best to disrupt the Huskies with a pressing, up-tempo style.
""We've got to be unpredictable and a team that will play defense as a team," Anderson said. "It's like you've got to pick your poison with their basketball team. One of the things that concerns me is the rebounding and physicality. We've got to match their intensity going to the glass. They're the defending national champion; they're supposed to win. You've just got to hang around and give yourself a chance."
Arkansas players such as freshman guard B.J. Young aren't lacking for confidence in their team going into hostile territory.
"I think we can go out there and make a big statement that Razorback basketball is back and better than ever and that we are ready to make some noise in the SEC this year," Young said.
It will be the first true road game for Arkansas' four freshman –Young and fellow guard Rashad Madden and forwards Hunter Mickelson and DeVonta Abron.
Young, the Razorbacks' leading healthy scorer at 13.3 points per game, said he relished playing on the road in high school and feels like he will enjoy it as well on the college level.
"I love playing in the road," Young said. "I like to call our team the road warriors. I am just ready to get a chance to play someplace else and showcase my talents and see how it feels in college to be on the road playing."
The game will feature seven players who were ranked among either the Top 100 high school players last season or named a Parade All-American.
Arkansas has four of those and UConn three, including freshman center Andre Drummond (6-10, 270), the current Big East newcomer of the week.
Drummond should be just a senior in high school, but graduated early and gives the Huskies – who have six players over 6-foot-8 on the roaster - a dominant player inside that is a likely lottery pick in next year's draft.
"They added arguably the best player in high school last year in Drummond," Anderson said. "He's 6-10 and just a beast."
Mickelson and Madden and their AAU squad – the Arkansas Wings – went up against Drummond en route to winning the AAU National title in Orlando in the summer of 2010.
"We played him and he was very good," Mickelson said.
Mickelson echoed the sentiment that the Razorbacks will be ready to play.
"We're pretty ready," Mickelson said. "We're out here playing working hard on everything to be able to beat teams like this. I am very excited and I know all the guys are too. We want to pull off a big game and hopefully win up there."
Madden, who says his injured ankle is sore but will not prevent him from playing, also notes the importance of the game.
"I am really excited to play in this game," Madden said. "Not only to go out and show what I can do, but what the whole team can do. We are not getting any credit around here so we have to go out on the road and earned it."
UConn is led in scoring by 6-5 sophomore Jeremy Lamb (21.1) and 6-1 point guard Shabazz Napier (17.4).
"Jeremy Lamb is an All-American kid who can really shoot the basketball," Anderson noted.
UConn was upset by Central Florida 68-63 in a semifinal round match-up of the Battle 4 Atlantis in which the Huskies lost a 15-point second-half lead.
The Huskies rebounded to down Florida State 78-76 in overtime last week in the third-place game of the event.
That was the first game for freshman guard Ryan Boatright, who had 14 points after sitting out the first six games for getting improper benefits.
"If we play like this the rest of the year," lengendary UConn coach jim Calhoun said after the game, "play with this kind of energy, we're going to be in fine shape."
It should be a gauge of where Arkansas is a basketball program early in the first year of Anderson's tenure with the Razorbacks.
"I am going to gauge it for what I think it is," Anderson said. "I think it will help us because we are going to face some teams that are just as good or with the same type of players that Connecticut has.
"I look at it as a great test for our basketball team," Anderson continued. "I want to see if our juices are flowing with our guys."
What are the keys to winning at UConn?
"We have got to shoot the ball, we have got to put it in the hole," Anderson said. "Our defense has got to be good. We have got to rebound the basketball…We have got to match their intensity, match their physicalness at the glass. We have got to get to the free throw line as much as they do. If we can get our bench involved in this game against their bench, I think that could be big in this particular game."
Anderson knows his team will be ready to take the court.
"One thing about this game is you don't have to get your kids up," Anderson said. "Guys look forward to playing in these kind of games and these kind of venues."
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