Arkansas Has Reason To Be Defensive

Arkansas' defense has not been anything to brag about this season at all, but head coach Mike Anderson knows it must start getting turned around beginning Thursday when the Razorbacks (13-4, 2-2) welcome in Alabama (12-5, 2-2) for a 6 p.m. game at Bud Walton Arena

Arkansas may lead the SEC in scoring at 82.9 points per game, but they are arguably the worst defensive team in the 14-team league right now and that has the Head Hog fuming.

Razorback head coach Mike Anderson has always taken pride in his team’s defense, but it’s been a weakness and not a strength this season.

Arkansas has allowed its first four conference foes to shoot a combined 51 percent from the field.

“My problem is not with the offense,” Anderson said. “It’s with the defense. We’re scoring. You’ve got to stop people. That to me is the biggest concern right now is our defense. I don’t worry about that. I think our offense will be fine. We’ve shown that throughout the year.

“But it’s about having a pride and playing with that passion that you have to play with and that is until we get the basketball on defense and rebounding the basketball,” Anderson said. “So that’s all we’re working on is our defense. Working on tempo, getting the ball out and creating something off our defense.”

He’s not letting anybody off either – pointing right to senior point guard Rashad Madden and his two leading scorers Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls.

“He (Madden) has got to get better defensively,” Anderson said. “That is the key there. It is not necessarily the offense, it’s the defense. Not only Ky, but we are talking about Bobby. All the guys that are playing. Michael has to get better at it.”

Arkansas (13-4, 2-2) will host Alabama (12-5, 2-2) – both riding two-game losing streaks – Thursday at Bud Walton Arena in a 6 p.m. game that will be televised by ESPN.

The Razorbacks lost their first home game of the season to Ole Miss 96-82) on Saturday just a few hours after No. 1 Kentucky routed the home-standing Crimson Tide 70-48.

“We are ready to get the taste out of our mouth,” Anderson said. “Next game is a big game for us. We are ready to get that fast out of our mouth. We have done well in terms of taking care of home.

“Like I said about the game the other night, it was one of those games where Ole Miss played really well and we didn’t play as good as we want to play,” Anderson added.

“We want to protect the home court against a good Alabama team that is coming here just as hungry,” Anderson continued. It is going to be important to us to really play well.”

Alabama head coach Anthony Grant knows his team will be getting an Arkansas team ready to bounce back.

“I think Mike's got an excellent team,” Grant said. “I know they're coming off a difficult loss in their last game, but watching his team, I'm really impressed overall. I think he's got an early-season candidate for player of the year in the league in Bobby Portis. He's playing outstanding. Michael Qualls is doing a great job for them. They have a lot of other pieces there.

“ I think they've got great depth,” Grant added. “Obviously, the style of play, to prepare for that going into their building will be a great challenge for us. But I know our guys are looking forward to getting back on the court. We've dropped a couple here in a row ourselves, so getting re-focused and understanding what allows us to have the best chance to go out and be successful in that game will be important.”

Arkansas has had six weeks in the season where he has gone unbeaten, but two weeks in which it has gone winless with back-to-back losses.

“I think the kind of players that we have, the kind of kids that we have one thing they’ve always been, they’ve responded to adversity,” Anderson said. “They’ve learned. Early on we took a lump when we lost at Ames, Iowa. We lost there and we had a tough defeat at Clemson and we battled back.

“So just like we start off 2-0 and we go 0-2, well, guess what? We can change that real quick,” Anderson added. “And that’s just the mindset. I think our guys are along in the process that they can bounce back. And they’ve shown that they can do that. We’ve got 14 games left. So there’s no panic on this side of it.”

Alabama had lost 16 straight road games before winning at Tennessee two weeks ago.

“Any time you win on the road I think it's big for your, it's a big confidence booster for your kids,” Anderson said. “So you carry that with you the next place you go. I'm sure any win, especially on the road, is big for any team.”

The Crimson Tide are led by 6-5 senior guard Levi Randolph (15.0), 6-6 senior guard Rodney Cooper and 6-2 junior point guard Rickey Tarrant (12.8), a transfer from Tulane who sit out last season.

“He (Randolph) is 6-5, 6-6, long and athletic and you have got to keep him out of the lane,” Anderson said. “ He can knock down the 3-point shot. He is their leading scorer along with Ricky Tarrant, a young man that transferred in from Tulane that sit out last year and is leading them in scoring in conference play."

Arkansas had a season-high 18,352 fans on Saturday night and missed a chance to reward those fans with a 17 straight home court win.

“Oh, our fans were awesome,” Anderson said. “It was a packed house and I think our kids look forward to it. And I want them to get used to knowing that that's how it is with that many people in here.

“We're looking forward to them coming against an Alabama team,” Anderson added. “We're right in the middle of this race. The race has just started and our fans are very critical to our success. So we want them to show up. We'll do our part. They did their part. We'll do our part. I guarantee you we'll do our part.”

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