Arkansas head basketball coach Mike Anderson is fully aware that it is very cold outside, but he has an idea on how to get warm.
Anderson wants fans to join him and the No. 23 Razorbacks (12-2, 1-0) - fresh off a big road win at Georgia - when they host Vanderbilt (11-2, 1-0) at Bud Walton Arena Saturday at 3:30 p.m. on the SEC.
“I know it’s cold outside, but it’s warm in here,” that’s why I want to make sure our fans know it’s warm in Bud Walton Arena,” Anderson said. “I want a packed house with a Vanderbilt team coming in here, first SEC home game on the SEC Network. So we want to make sure the nation gets a chance to see us on full display.
“That means our basketball team as well as our fans,” Anderson added. “… When you come here, it’s two hours of sheer energy, sheer entertainment, and I think our players have done a good job of protecting the home court.”
Arkansas’ largest home crowd this season has been 9,270 fans for its 69-55 win over Dayton (12-2), who has won five straight game since its loss to the Razorbacks.
The Razorbacks - who finished 22nd nationally in attendance last season - have sold over 14,000 tickets for each home game with a high of 15,738 against Northwestern, La., State.
“One of the things that I talked about as I was here (as a Razorback assistant for 17 years) and even as I came back, I talked about the passion, the great atmosphere that takes place at Bud Walton Arena,” Anderson said. “We have got a team that is playing well and I expect our people to show up. I am expecting a packed house to tell you the truth.
“We have got a product that is playing well and these kids are fun to watch,” Anderson added. “And to have the SEC Network to come, this is the first (Arkansas conference game) on the SEC Network, the first SEC game so it will be fitting for us to have a packed house here.”
Arkansas is 60-6 at home under Anderson, who is in his fourth season at the school.
“We think we have a home court advantage,” said Anderson, whose team won at Vanderbilt 77-75 last season. “When our fans show up and they show out, to us it’s like 8-10 points.”
Vanderbilt and 16th-year head coach Kevin Stallings - the dean of SEC head coaches - are coming in off a 64-52 home win over Auburn, who is in its first year under former Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl.
“Kevin has a lot of young players and I’m sure he’s excited about this basketball team,” Anderson said. “ It’s like when you get new blood. You’ve got some new blood, new energy and this team is playing well. they played a pretty good schedule, won some road games. So they’re coming here already battle tested.”
The Commodores are led by 6-10, 248-pound sophomore center Damian Jones (16.2, 7.1), 6-2 freshman guard Riley LaChance (13.1), and 6-7, 225-pound senior power forward James Siakam (10.2) and 7-0 sophomore center Luke Cornet (8.7, 4.6).
“Vanderbilt is playing well,” Anderson said. “They won their opener at home against an Auburn team led by Damien Jones, a young player of size that played well last year. He’s a center/forward that can step out and, very active, he can step out and make shots. He’s good around the basket he played well against us last year.”
The Commodores have six true freshmen and three sophomores on their roster.
“They don’t look like true freshman,” Anderson said. “They played 13, 14 games so they are really not true freshmen now. They got their first taste of SEC basketball against Auburn in a game that was nip and tuck and they figured out how to win it."
The freshman duo of Shelton Mitchell and LaChance are the key cogs in the backcourt.
“The LaChance kid can really shoot the basketball,” Anderson said. “And of course, the Mitchell kid, he runs the show. So I think Kevin has got some real good basketball players to go along with Damon Jones, who is playing really well. They are good players, really good players.”
Arkansas is the top 3-point shooting team in the conference with Vanderbilt second.
“They have got a lot of weapons,” Anderson said. “They can shoot it well, they execute their offense, they pack their defense, they want to make you shoot jump shots. They will push the basketball, they like to score. They have been playing well.”
The Razorbacks must put the Georgia win behind them and move forward according to sophomore Manuale Watkins.
“The Georgia game is over,” Watkins said. “That was cool but five minutes after the game and as soon as I got on the plane my mind was set on the next game.
“So we just have to be ready to play,” Watkins said. “ Every game is going to be a battle. We just have to get ready in practice and come out and just do what we do.”
Anderson agrees with that sentiment.
"You know, it’s a race, it’s not a sprint,” Anderson said. “You know, that was one game. There’s a lot out there for us, but the only approach we’re going to have is one day at a time, one game at a time, one practice at a time. They see it through my eyes and we should be fine with that.”
Michael Qualls lets his game-winning shot fly against Vanderbilt last season.
Arkansas Hoping For Full House Against Vandy
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