Arkansas is staring an 0-3 start in SEC action right in the face and standing smack dab in the way is the league's most talented team in Kentucky.
The Razorbacks (11-4, 0-2) host No. 13 Wildcats (12-3, 2-0) Tuesday night at 8 p.m in a game that will be televised by ESPN and part of Super Tuesday.
"Now we have to play against Kentucky team that is playing well," Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said. "They are 2-0 in conference play and as everyone knows around the country they probably have the most talented team that (head Coach John) Calipari has had and they are playing at a high level."
That match-up arrives after Arkansas lost at Texas A&M 69-53 on Wednesday and then let a seven-point lead slip away late and eventually falling to then No. 10 and now No. 7 Florida 84-82 in overtime on Saturday.
"You wonder where our guys are from a mental standpoint, I think our guys will be ready to play," Anderson said on Monday. "I really, really do. You don't want to have the hangover effect. Florida is over with. There is nothing you can do about that. They have done something that not many people have done in the last few years, come in here and steal a win.
"So now it's up to us to protect the home court," Anderson added. "Our fan came out in great, great numbers (18,068 fans) and did a tremendous job. Our students are back in full force so we look forward to the game. We look forward to the challenge and the opportunity."
Anderson knows exactly what his team is going to have to do after its 23-game home winning streak was snapped by the Gators.
"We are kind of treading in uncharted waters for our basketball team this year in terms of losing two games in a row," Anderson said. "...We aim to rectify that. And how we are going to do that, we have talked to our guys that we have to start embracing the small things. Small things turn into big things and what I mean by that is loose balls, deflections, just playing with energy, talking on the floor."
Kentucky head coach John Calipari is not about to let his team think winning in Fayetteville is going to be easy – especially since the Wildcats have lost their last two games in Bud Walton Arena.
"They always play well against us," Calipari said on Monday's SEC Teleconference. "I mean, they always do. The games that I've coached against Arkansas, they play well. They're a terrific-shooting team from the three, from the two, from the free throw line.
"They're scrambling their defense, they're playing some 2-3 zone," Calipari added. " They're still pressing and trapping and scrambling. Sometimes trap, switch pick-and-rolls. It doesn't matter who it is. They're playing. I think the Texas A&M (loss) was a little bit of an anomaly. But what I saw in the Florida tape, they're a terrific team."
Obviously so is a Kentucky team that has reloaded this season with seven McDonald's All-Americans, including 6-9, 250-pound Julius Randle (16.7, 10.9).
"Randle's a very skilled guy," Anderson said. "People look at his power, but I think he's putting that power with skills as well. He has a mindset that he wants to be great, thinks he's one of the best players in the country. I think he has a will. But you know, you look at his size, his athletic ability, his strength and just ... He's a beast is what he is. He's a very good player."
Calipari – whose team has beaten Mississippi State and won at Vanderbilt so far this conference season - knows he has a great one in Randle, but the young man has been having issues with cramping during games.
"First of all, I really believe he's got to get to cramping in practice," Calipari said. "He's got to go that hard in practice. He's not cramping in practice, so that leads me to believe he's got to step on the gas there.
"The second thing is, we've probably got to get him a quicker rotation, so he's in and out instead of staying on the floor 7, 8, 9 minutes, 10 minutes," Calipari added. "Let him go 3 or 4 minutes, come out, go back in and play a little bit of a different rotation. Those are some things. Diet. We blood-tested him and all those things. I believe, again, when you go at the pace he goes, because he puts out and he goes really, extremely hard, that your body says, 'Hey, man, slow down.'"
Randle is joined in the starting line-up by 6-6 freshman shooting guard James Young (14.1), 7-0, 244-pound sophomore center Willie Cauley-Stein (9.4, 7.7) and twin 6-6 freshman guards Aaron Harrison (14.0) and Andrew Harrison (10.9).
The deep bench is led by 6-8 sophomore forward Alex Poythress (8.2, 5.2).
"Tempo-wise, they will push it up the floor," Anderson said. "But at the same time, they're going to rely on their strength. They figure they've got a size advantage with Cauley, with Julius Randle and they have some attacking guards. The Harrison twins are really, really good in attacking, so if you pay too much attention inside then of course you've got Young, who's knocking shots down and then you've got those guys looming on the boards."
Kentucky pounds the boards and ranks fifth nationally in rebounding.
"Big key to the game, I think, is going to be on the boards," Anderson said. "We've got to battle them on the boards. No question, keeping those guys from getting stick backs and dribble penetration. They dribble in there and they throw up lobs. Guys 3-4 feet above the rim and dunking it, so we've got to make sure we put bodies on bodies."
The Razorbacks would love to get the performances they got Saturday from junior guard Rashad Madden (23 points) and senior forward Coty Clarke (16 points, 14 rebounds, 3 assists).
Clarke had 14 points and 12 rebounds in Arkansas' 73-60 win over Kentucky on March 2 at Bud Walton Arena last season.
It would likely help Arkansas sophomore Michael Qualls could break out of his shooting slump that has him mired in a 3-of-22 funk.
He did hit a 3-pointer as time ran out on Saturday.
"It's important to him," Anderson said. "Mike's got to, I think he's got to engage himself. Mike's an energy guy. He's an energy guy, he's a, if you want to call it, a slasher, blue-collar kind of guy, and I think he's got to be engaged with that mindset. So, sometimes you start thinking too much and he's just got to start playing and showcase and play to his God-given abilities.
"And sometimes it's just like even with a team," Anderson added. "Something can get you going. With this team now, we've had couple of games where we didn't get it done. Maybe that next game is what really gets us going. We'll see. The same way with a player. A dunk, a layup, a free throw or shot can get you going. Or even, let's say on a defense, a great blocked shot. It can get you engaged. So, we need him to play well. We need all our guys to play at a high level."
Kentucky's Alex Poythress and Arkansas' Coty Clarke battle for a rebound last season in the Razorbacks' 73-60 win over Kentucky on March 2, 2013 at Bud Walton Arena.
Fighting To Rebound Quickly
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