Arkansas fans – and the NCAA Tournament committee – made it clear last season that they wanted the Razorbacks to have a more beefed up non-conference schedule and Mike Anderson made sure this year's slate did the trick.
One of those celebrated dates arrives Wednesday when Arkansas (1-0) hosts ACC squad Wake Forest (2-0) in a 8 p.m. game that will be televised by the SEC Network.
The Demon Deacons, who won 71-49 at Tulane on Monday night, are coached by former Kansas and NBA star Danny Manning, and are part of a non-con slate that also includes road games at preseason Top 25 clubs SMU and Iowa State, another road test at ACC member Clemson and a home game with Dayton.
“There are some games that you really don't have to say anything,” Anderson said. “These guys watch college basketball. Sometimes they do get up in the names of the teams. Our coaching staff and myself, we have got to make sure these guys understand there is a sense of urgency in every game. Especially as you try to come out of the gates swinging.
“We have got a tremendous non-conference schedule and we want to be playing some good basketball and just continue to build the continuity with this team,” Anderson added. “ That's the key. We have have got to build continuity. We are still playing a lot of combinations and as we play more games, that will change. But as we are trying to identity those core guys and get those guys ready to play at a high level together.”
Junior college transfer point guard Jabril Durham – who had six assists and one turnover in his first game as a Razorback - is excited to play an ACC team, but looks more at the big picture.
Wake Forest is the only the second ACC team to ever visit Bud Walton Arena along with Clemson's visit last season.
“I feel like beating an ACC team just because it's the ACC, will get people's attention,” Durham said. “But that's not our goal. Just winning a game against an ACC team doesn't put us in the (NCAA Tournament). It doesn't put us out of the tournament. So we're just going to stay focused and stay on course for each game. But of course it's going to get people's attention if we beat an ACC team. And we want to get people's attention, so we're going to play the same against any opponent.”
Sophomore Bobby Portis had 24 points and Anthlon Bell 20 Arkansas whipped Alabama State 97-79 on Sunday in its season opener after being tied 48-48 at halftime.
Wake Forest opened its season with a 90-79 win over North Carolina-Asheville on Friday night with 6-9, 255-pound big man Devon Thomas having 25 points and 13 rebounds and 6-10, 225-pound forward Konstanitos Mitoglou had 17 points and 8 rebounds.
Those two guys combined for 29 free throws attempts and led the Demon Deacons – who were 17-16 a year ago with home wins over Duke and North Carolina - to a 49-25 advantage on the boards.
“He's got a team that has some nice size and some athletic forwards coming out of the ACC,” Anderson said. “...It's going to be another task for our guys coming off a game against Alabama State where it was tied at halftime. I thought we really put some things together in the second half. I thought our defense really picked up. We were trying to win with offense in the first half but the second half we paid a little bit more attention to details and got the job done.”
Arkansas was out-rebounded 38-27 on Sunday and that is something that is an obvious concern to both Anderson and his players, including Qualls – who noted it was about one thing.
“Effort,” Qualls said. “Just pure effort. I want to say I had three rebounds … Me and Bobby were just having a conversation about our rebounding and how we need to pick it up. It's unacceptable. Whoever plays minutes, whoever is out there on the floor is responsible for it. So we've just got to go out there and get it. We've got a big, athletic, strong team. There's no reason why we shouldn't be blasting people on the rebounds.
“...It's just the first game,” Qualls added. “The second game we want to be more tenacious and just be better. We shouldn't be having this conversation after the next game.”
Anderson was happy to hear that opinion being put forth, but wants to see it on the court from Qualls, Portis, Alandise Harris and Rashad Madden, who the coach said should be back in the starting line up after he missed the final two practices leading up to the opener after his grandfather passed away.
“We have got to be better in the rebounding department,” Anderson said. “I think we have got to go body for body and put bodies on people and let's go get the ball and get down the floor. Our guards have to get it and rebound. Our small forwards, Mike has got to get it and rebound. Ky (Madden) and the big guards have got to get rebounds.
“Alandise the other night got his hands on a lot of balls, he just didn't come up with it,” Anderson added. “Of course it's something we have to be better at because it creates more possessions for us. We are winning the possession game but it would be even more so with the rebounding because that is the finishing part of defense and that's something we are really, really struggling with. So that is something that is probably their strength and we just have to neutralize that and be in the ballpark.”
Arkansas has also not gotten off too great starts in the first half in either of its two exhibition wins or in the regular season opener.
“We've got to pick up our sense of urgency,” Qualls said. “I feel like that's going to come along with every game. You're going to see it heightened, because everybody has jitters. We do have some new players and we have players that have stepped up into better roles. Everybody's just got to get used to it. We are going to be all right.”
Anderson expects to see a more complete effort from his team – who turns right around and host Delaware State on Friday night at 7 p.m. - in game number two.
“It's a new year year, it's a new team and it's early,” Anderson said. “We are not the only one that's going through the learning process. More importantly we just have got to put 40 minutes together. That's all. I thought the other night we probably played 25 or 30 minutes.
“...There are some games that as a coach you don't have to get them riled up,” Anderson added. “They understand it. In playing against Alabama State was probably a blessing in disguise. Why? We played against one of the better teams in their league and they came in and gave us their best shot. They came in and shot the ball extremely well. They attacked us and they attacked the glass and still they walked out of here with a loss.
“But it woke our guys up from the standpoint of you have got to play at a certain level every single night,” Anderson added.
Photos by Jason Ivester
Rashad Madden should be back in the starting line up on Wednesday after coming off the bench on Sunday after missing pair of practices because his grandfather passed away.
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