A track meet masquerading as a basketball game is set for Saturday night at Bud Walton Arena.
Two of the nation's six highest-scoring squads will be in action when Arkansas (7-4) hosts Northwestern (LA) State (5-3) in a 7 p.m. contest.
The Demons are second nationally at 86.3 points per game – trailing only Indiana's 89.1 - while the Razorbacks are tied with Syrcuse for fifth at 83.0.
"Northwestern State is one of top teams in the country in scoring," Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said. "They hit a high percentage of their shots, play 10-11 guys and have balance. They have quick guards that can attack and you have to cover their 3-point shooters.
"It's one of those dangerous teams that has guys who can score, and they're deep," Anderson addedd. " It's going to be a good test, an uptempo game that should be entertaining to watch."
Northwestern (LA) State has not played in two weeks since a 95-78 home win over Missouri Valley before a home crowd of just 715 fans.
"It won't take long to shake off any cobwebs," said Demons' coach Mike McConathy. "Neither team will be standing around much Saturday night after the national anthem except during free throws and time outs. Mike Anderson has Arkansas back to the Nolan Richardson-style of fast breaks and full court pressure, and we like to keep the game fast too. They have some very explosive players and will be a great challenge for us."
Anderson certainly got his player's attentions once they got back from a short Christmas break.
It was tough," Arkansas sophomore guard B.J. Young. "Coach A wanted to run all the food out of us and make sure that we're more than ready for the game coming up and conference play and all the other games. Everybody came back with a good focus. We've been going through two-a-days, and everybody looks ready for this game."
Arkansas won its last three games before the break after starting off 4-4 against a tough non-conference slate.
"It remains to be seen if we're in that same mode that we've been playing with prior to the break.," Anderson said. "But our guys are excited about playing. And as you can see we're getting closer and closer to conference play. You want to hopefully be playing a little bit better basketball than you were earlier in the year.
"One of the things I really talked about our team is our effort," Anderson said. "Our effort to the glass. Our effort on defense. Our effort in pushing the ball. Our effort in screening and getting other guys open. So effort and attitude are very, very important this time of year."
The Demons have played a tough schedule with losses at LSU (102-95), at Texas A&M (78-65) and Oklahoma (69-65), in a game the Sooners had to rally from six points down with less than five minutes to play.
"Everybody's got our attention," Arkansas sophomore center Hunter Mickelson said. "We always want to play as hard as we can and play like we know we can. It's definitely going to be a good test, and hopefully we'll go out there and take care of business… It's definitely going to be fun to see who comes out on top in a running game like that."
Northwestern State has four players averaging in double figures in 6-7 junior forward DeQuan Hicks (14.9), 6-0 senior guard Shamir Davis (14.4) and 5-10 freshman guard Jalen West (14.1) and 6-8 junior forward James Hublin (11.5) with 6-0 junior Brison White (8.0) close.
The Demons have 10 players averaging over 10 minutes per game and no one averaging more than 26 minutes per game.
"They've got guys that are versatile," Anderson said. "Just like (Razorback junior forward) Marshawn (Powell) can step out and shoot the basketball, they have two guys. Hicks can step out, he can put it on the floor. Hulbin, they've got a kid that can really step out. He can step out and make shots.
"Again, we've got to make sure we address that when we're covering the 3-point shooters and keep them off the boards," Anderson added. "They're an active team on the offensive boards. And I'd like to see us continuing to be assertive on the offensive boards, especially."
Arkansas will likely start 6-3 sophomore guard Young (16.7), 6-7 redshirt junior forward Powell (16.3), the 6-10 Mickelson (7.9), 6-2 junior guard Mardracus Wade (7.1) and 6-3 junior guard Rickey Scott (5.3).
Scott certainly has a better attitude after one of his better games this season with 10 points in last Saturday's 95-68 win over Alabama A&M.
"I think Rickey is playing with a lot more passion," Anderson said. "He was inserted into the lineup. But I've been seeing it in practice. To me, he's playing with a little bit more aggressiveness, a little bit more toughness. He's a junior. He's not a freshman, not a sophomore anymore. So I expect him to go out and play the game with passion on both ends. Be assertive.
"… It's not necessarily him just scoring the basketball," Anderson said. "I think he's one of the better guys when you talk about pushing the basketball in the open … he really gets the ball down the floor and gets it to people. So he's doing more of that. He's getting in dirty in the rebounding department. He's getting in there and getting his nose bloodied up a little bit."
Scott, who has only started twice this season after starting 29-of-32 games last season, has certainly not lived up to expectations this year.
He is averaging just 15.3 minutes of playing time per game this season.
"I had a meeting with Coach A and he told me the time is ticking," Scott said. "I'm a junior and my time is ticking. He told me my time is slipping away and I have got to show people what I can do. I took it personally. I came out and practiced hard. I think once you practice hard you bring it to the game."
Young said the Razorbacks are putting in the work to get to where they want to go.
"We just need to know we're getting ready for something bigger, and we're preparing as hard as we can and as well as we can for every game," Young said. "And every possession. We just want to send out a message to anyone that comes in here that they're going to have a hard time. We just want to play tough and as hard as we can."
Photo by Marc F. Henning
Arkansas assistant coach Matt Zimmerman and Rickey Scott celebrate after a win.
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