Arkansas will head into its final non-conference game of the regular season Saturday against Utah Valley with a 10-2 mark and a pair of new captains.
Razorback head coach Mike Anderson announced Friday that sophomore Bobby Portis and senior Rashad Madden had been named co-captains by their teammates.
“That's what the guys wanted, and obviously I'm going to have the final say so,” Anderson said. “But I think it adds a little bit more responsibility to those guys.Those guys have played more than any of the guys that are here.
“Those guys, especially a guy like Ky (Madden), he knows the ins and outs of conference play,” Anderson added. “And not only that, what I'm expecting from our team, what I'm expecting from the players. And maybe he can be that guy that can relay the message to them.
“I think the teams that have good leadership and ownership, those are the teams that do well and continue to play in March and beyond March,” Anderson continued. “So hopefully it's a sign of growth of those guys, and they take on that responsibility. It's a big responsibility.”
Madden is averaging 10.5 points and 5.4 assists - 2nd in the SEC - and is tied for the league lead in free throw percentage at 91.8 (45 of 49).
Portis is averaging team highs of 17.2 points and 7.7 rebounds - in the top five of the SEC in scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage (58.3).
“It's something I think he embraces,” Anderson said of Portis and the captaincy. “Leadership is not given. I think it's something he's got to earn, even as he's in that captainship role. So you can do it by your play, but I think you've also got to do it with what you do off the floor as well.
“And I think Bobby, he's a team guy,” Anderson said. “This guy is, as I've said, from a basketball standpoint, he's probably playing at as high a level as anybody in our league right now. And yet he's still a very unselfish player, I think. That tells me he's the ultimate team kind of guy."
The Razorbacks (10-2) and Wolverines (5-8) will meet at 2:05 p.m. at Bud Walton Arena in a game that will be televised by the SEC Network.
It is the last game for Arkansas - who expects to have injured freshman guard Anton Beard back on Saturday - before opening SEC play at Georgia Tuesday night at 8 p.m.
?Arkansas is riding a four-game winning streak since it suffered back-to-back road losses to Iowa State and Clemson in the first week of December.
“In November we were undefeated,” Anderson said. “December started off a little rough. We played some games on the road and lost two. If I look at it, we really got beat in one of those games, and that was the one when we didn't show up at Iowa State.
“I thought in the Clemson game, it was more about what we did than what Clemson did,” Anderson added. “So as we get to this point right now, there were lessons learned. And I hope we learned some lessons and we can take advantage of that as we get ready to go into finish up the non-conference part of our schedule, and then dive into the conference play.
“Because it turns up 20 notches, the intensity in conference play,” Anderson said. “That's something our guys have got to make sure they understand. And hopefully we'll use this game as one where we're trying to get better and trying to get ready for conference play.”
Utah Valley finished 20-12 and won the WAC regular season title while losing to California in the opening round of the NIT.
They have won just 5 of 13 games this season with a 87-56 loss at Arizona among that mark.
“They are going to try and keep the game in the 50s and the 60s and they’re going to pack their defense,” Anderson said. “They’re going to dare you to take outside shots. One thing we can’t do, we can’t just rely on shooting jump shots. We’ve got to take advantage of our size and hopefully get the game into an up-and-down tempo type of game.”
The Wolverines are coached by former Ball State coach Dick Hunsaker, who took UALR transfers Paris McCurdy and Curtis Kidd and got the Cardinals to the Sweet 16 back in 1990.
Ball State upset Oregon State and Louisville in the NCAA Tournament before losing to eventual champion UNLV.
"Arkansas has terrific athleticism and length," said Hunsaker, a former Rick Majerius assistant at Utah who took over for him 2001 when the head coach was ill. "They are going to continue their tradition of full court pressure for 40 minutes. It will be a real test and opportunity for us to play against that style.”
Arkansas sophomore Manuale Watkins knows that the Razorbacks have to be ready to play Saturday to avoid being one of the numerous teams that have suffered home losses to underdogs this season.
“I think that's why a lot of those upsets happen because a team has an off game and their mind is on offense and they are not playing very good defense and then the smaller team creeps up on them and beats them,” Watkins said. “I think with us and a defensive mindset, defense is something that can be there every night. I think that's why we avoided some of the ESPN upsets and stuff because we are always ready to play defense.”
That being said, Arkansas’ defense has to improve heading into SEC play according to Watkins.
“We work on it all day in practice, rotating, reading, matchup problems,” Watkins said. “He always preaches fixing things like when something breaks down. But we have to get a lot better going into the SEC because this is a great league that's tough physical.”
Razorbacks Tab Portis and Madden As Captains
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