The contest between Arkansas and Texas A&M in College Station, Texas, on Wednesday night is not a boxing match, but it might as well be.
That's because head coach Mike Anderson feels like his Razorbacks (11-2) – currently riding a seven-game win streak as they play their first true road game - are walking into a ring with the Aggies (9-4) to open its SEC slate.
It is a rematch of last season's SEC opening basketball game at Reed Arena where A&M hammered Arkansas last season 69-51 while drubbing the visitors on the board 51-27.
"I want to see us continue to build upon what has taken place up until this point," Anderson said. "That is hanging our hats on our defense and really creating havoc with our defense. Making people take hurried shots, forcing some turnovers at time. Sharing the basketball.
"…(It's an) opportunity to go and find out how our guys will respond to some adversity," Anderson added. "We are going to get punched in the mouth and we will see if we can punch back, too. That is what these games are about. You will find out a little bit more about your basketball team where are you at this junction of the season."
Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy believes his team – which lost to Oklahoma 64-52 in Houston and then suffered a 61-41 home loss to North Texas to end December – is re-focusing after losing sophomore starting point guard J'Mychael Reese.
Reese (6-1, 187) – whose dad John is an assistant for Texas A&M - was dismissed from the team for violation of athletic department rules and regulations before those two losses.
The Aggies rebounded from that two-game skid last Saturday to down Texas Pan-American 63-46.
"We lost a kid right before we played Oklahoma, and that was a kid that started 25 games for us last year and played 26 minutes a game," Kennedy said. "It's been an adjustment to some degree, just on the perimeter. We haven't shot the ball extremely well.
"The last three games, teams have probably played us 95 percent zone," Kennedy added. "And we just haven't shot the ball well. We made 20 threes two games before that stretch, and then I think we made a total of four threes in the two games, the Oklahoma game and then North Texas, we shot it really poor.
"And North Texas played really well," Kennedy continued. "The last game, fortunately, we got back to more of the reality of what we are. We shot the ball decent, made seven threes, and did a better job against the zone offensively than we had the two previous games."
The Aggies are led by 6-9, 234-pound junior center Kourtney Robertson (11.0, 8.0), 6-8, 200-pound Arkansas native Jamal Jones (9.7), 6-5 sophomore point guard Alex Caruso (9.5, nearly 5 assists per game) and 6-5 junior guard Jordan Green (8.2).
"It's a team that is still trying to find out an identity," Anderson said. "They have had some adversity take place with some kids. One of the faces you are going to see that is leading them in assists is Caruso. He is a guy that played well against us in both games last year.
"Kortney Roberson, you look at him, those are the guys they are looking for to lead those guys," Anderson added. "Fabyon Harris is another guy who kept them in the game when we played them here last year."
Jones grew up in Wynne, played his high school basketball at Searcy and then signed and played a year at Ole Miss before being dismissed and landing at Lee College.
Jones, who has hit 23 3-pointers, chose the Aggies over the Razorbacks last spring.
"He's a skill guy," Anderson said. "He's leading them in 3-point shooting. He's a guy that can handle the basketball against the press. He's athletic. He can rebound. He brings a versatile guy to their basketball team."
Kennedy believes he is going to face an Arkansas team that will take its show on the road unlike they have in the past.
"I think this is a different Arkansas team than the last two years," Kennedy said. "Like I mentioned earlier, they've got eight guys who have played a lot of games. With five seniors, I think they've got good leadership. They've played extremely well at home, and have shot the ball tremendously well. I hope — because it's their first road game — they don't shoot the three like they've been shooting it.
"I just think this is a different team, it's a veteran team," Kennedy added. "Mike's had them now for three years. We don't look at that (road past struggles) as being any kind of factor to be honest with you."
Anderson agrees with that sentiment.
"I just think this is a different team," Anderson said. "I think that it is our job to make sure they keep everything the same. This is what we are doing. I am sure the nerves will be going and there will some instances where they will probably be trying too hard, but hopefull when the sweat (happens) and hopefully they get into a rhythm – this is basketball and is what we do each and every day.
"I always try to keep things simple with our guys," Anderson added. "Let's go out and leave it on the floor. Different team, different year. That is why I look forward to it as a great opportunity for this team."
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