Charging Toward The Big Dance
Just how good a run is the Arkansas' basketball team on?
The numbers certainly tell the story after downing Ole Miss 110-80 Wednesday before 16,508 fans at Bud Walton Arena and before heading into Saturday's 3 p.m. regular season finale at Alabama.
The Razorbacks (21-9, 10-7) have now won six SEC games in a row for the first time since 1998 and are currently riding the nation's fifth longest winning streak.
The team's eight wins in the past nine games are the most by an Arkansas since 1995 and the 21 total wins are the most in the regular season since 2005-2006.
"With all the distractions and all the talk and all that, it's good to see our guys stay focused and keeping things simple," Anderson said. "All they're worried about is trying to go out and play and get better. That's what they're trying to do.
"As a coach, when you follow the blueprint that we've had for many, many years.," added Anderson, who played at Tulsa and then coached under former Arkansas head coach Nolan Richardson. "When I played for Coach Richardson, when I coached with him here, when I went to UAB, Missouri, it was the same blueprint. Our teams tend to really start coning together in late February and move on into March, and here we are. And it's happening."
The 110 points broke Arkansas' previous school record for most points in SEC game Bud Walton Arena, which was 107 against Auburn on Feb. 21, 1988.
"When we scored early on, the basket was big. It was like an ocean," Anderson said. "And we got the right guys shooting it. It didn't matter who … They took good shots is what they did. It was good to see that take place. It was one of those nights where everything, it was Murphy's Law. It went well. It didn't go wrong, it went the other way. It was good to see. And our fans really enjoyed it. They embraced it. "
The Razorbacks' 20 SEC wins over the past two seasons are the most in a two-year period since the 1997-98 and 1988-89 squads and give them two straight SEC winning seasons for the first time since then.
Arkansas has gone over 100 points four times this season – the most since 2000-2001 and same number combined of the other 13 SEC teams – and has now scored over the century mark 38 times at Bud Walton Arena while its foes have never gone over 100.
Arkansas has trailed by more than three points for just 2:07 during the nine-game span.
Anthlon Bell, who had a career-high 23 points against Ole Miss, is the sixth Arkansas player to score over 20 points in a game this season.
Bell was 7-of-10 from 3-point range and senior Mardracus Wade 5-of-7 on a night when the Razorbacks tied the program SEC record of 17 – which previously happened in 1995 and 1998, both against Auburn.
Wade was one of four seniors that started along with Coty Clarke, Rickey Scott and Fred Gulley while the fifth senior – Kikko Haydar – came off the bench.
"Right after the Georgia game, Kikko comes up to me and said, "Coach, I visited with all the seniors and we aren't worried about starting on Senior Night. You do what you have got to do,'" Anderson remembered. "I looked at him and that is unbelievable. He is thinking that far in advance.
"He said, me and Wade and Rickey and all the guys visited about that," Anderson said. "That meant a lot to me. But I am still a traditionalist and thought those guys deserved it and they did what they are supposed to do. It didn't matter with him. That's the unselfishness of this basketball team. They are taking ownership. When they come at you like that that's ownership."
Anderson is happy that this group of seniors are experiencing success down the stretch after enduring some adversity.
All have played parts in helping the Razorbacks go from a team that started SEC action 2-6 to one that has put itself to a legitimate NCAA Tournament team.
"They have had staying powers," Anderson added. "These seniors have endured some things that took place for the most don't know if they wanted to be associated with but at the same time (but) they stayed true to who they are and they have grown and embraced the culture and this team. They were going to do whatever they can to help the team. The testament is these guys have staying power and look what has happened they are being rewarded."
The Razorbacks will be trying to win the program's fourth game on the road this season for the first time since 1998.
Bobby Portis had an Arkansas-freshman record 35 points in his team's 65-58 win over Alabama on Feb. 5 - a victory that started the Razorbacks' current successful stretch.
The Crimson Tide (12-18, 5-12) have struggled this season, but have some very good players in 6-0 senior guard Trevor Releford (18.6), 6-8, 220-pound freshman forward Shannon Hale (8.4) and 6-5, 205-pound junior guard Levi Randolph (8.4).
Alabama has beated Arkansas five straight times in Tuscaloosa with the Razorbacks hoping to end that streak just as they did one that had them losing six staight to Ole Miss before Wednesday night.
"I like how we are playing but this is over with at midnight and we have to get ready for Alabama. It will be Senior Night and they will have emotion going," Anderson said. "They have a tremendous player in Releford and the Hale kid is playing well and Randolph is playing well and they play well at home. It's a tremendous challenge but I like how we are playing."
A win at Alabama could all bit clinch a berth in the NCAA Tournament for Arkansas. That would be the first one since 2008 if it indeed happens.
"You can say that, but as far as that, we always have a sense of urgency," Clarke said. "Everything is just clicking right now. …We're starting to see the bigger picture. One game at a time is our mindset."
Arkansas seniors Coty Clarke, Fred Gulley and Rickey Scott celebrate with the Razorback student section after the Razorbacks' 110-88 win over visiting Georgia.
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