The Ultimate Challenge

Arkansas has beaten Kentucky the last three times the two teams have met, but Mike Anderson says his No. 18 Razorbacks (23-5, 12-3) face the ultimate challenge Saturday when they visit the No. 1 Wildcats (28-0, 15-0) in a 3 p.m. game at Rupp Arena in Lexington.

Arkansas won its last 13 games in Feb., seven straight this season and has beaten Kentucky the last three times the two programs have faced each other – including the last time the met at Rupp Arena.

Kentucky is unbeaten and No. 1, off to the program’s best start eve and riding longest winning streak ever in its history and has not lost in almost a full calendar year.

That’s the stage set for Saturday’s 3 p.m. CBS nationally televised game between the top-ranked Wildcats (28-0, 15-0) and the visiting and No. 18 Razorbacks (23-5, 12-3).

“We respect our opponent but we fear no one,” noted Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson, who is 4-2 all-time against Kentucky as a head coach. “That's the mindset.”

Kentucky – off to the best start in the program storied tradition – is favored by 12 points in Saturday’s game.

“Right now, if you ask many people their opinion, the game is already over with,” Anderson said. “ But I know our guys and I know our staff. I know the makeup of our basketball team.

“The game is played on the floor five guys at a time,” Anderson added. “If you line it up, as I said, man for man, there is no way possible you would say we would win this game from a talent standpoint.

“But the beauty about basketball is you play five guys at the same time,” Anderson continued. “And the best team wins. Normally the best team wins. So there are a lot of things we have got to do well to get a win.”

Anderson notes that he does have players who have been on winning teams against Kentucky and that can’t hurt.

“The one thing we have some players that played in those games last year and they go in there with a lot of confidence,” Anderson said. “But they are a different team than they were last year and vice-versa.

“So to me it's another season, two teams trying to win championships,” Anderson added. “That's what they are trying to do and we are trying to do the same thing. But at the same time our guys will go in there with the ultimate confidence.”

Arkansas comes into the game off an 81-75 home win Tuesday night over Texas A&M – one in which the Razorbacks led 33-9 in the first half before letting off the accelerator.

“We're playing well,” Anderson said. “More importantly, we're playing well at this time of the year. But as I said, there are some things we've got to do in order to give ourselves a chance, and one of those is, we've got to play with poise. It's going to be probably a game of runs.

“Adversity is going to take place, and I'm anxious to see how we respond to that adversity,” Anderson added. “ It took place last year here, and it took place at their place, and our guys did a good job of really just calming each other down and continuing to make plays. Our defense was good, and that's going to have to carry us this time. Our defense is going to have to be good.”

Kentucky kept its perfect season alive with a 74-56 victory at Mississippi State.

Anderson – whose team was 16-of-16 at the three throw line in last season’s Razorback 71-67 win at Rupp - was asked if the opportunity to end the Wildcats’ perfect ride was motivation.

“It is the next game on the schedule,” Anderson said. “You are playing against the best and if you want to be one of the best than you have got to beat the best. And they are considered the best in college basketball right now.”

Kentucky plays two different platoons of five players each – most of which are McDonald’s All-Americans.

That list includes sophomore guards Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison, 7-footers Willie Cauley Stein, Karl-Anthony Townes and Dakari Johnson, shooting guard Devin Booker, 6-10 forward Trey Lyles and freshman guard Tyler Ulis.

Only Andrew Harrison (11.2) and Booker (11.1) average in double figures, but the Wildcats have seven guys averaging over 7.3 points and four averaging over 5 rebounds per contest.

“They've got how many? Seven, eight? We've got one, and we've got some Burger King guys,” Anderson saod. “That's what we've got. So we're going to go with the Burger King guys as well.”

Arkansas sophomore forward Bobby Portis is the Razorbacks’ lone All-American and one of 14 finalists for the Oscar Robertson Award and he must have a big game for the Razorbacks to win, but all of his teammates must play at a high level as well per Anderson.

“It's got to be more than just Bobby,” Anderson said. “This is going to be about our team. Hopefully, Bobby will continue to play at the level he's playing. He's playing at a high level right now. He's playing not only like one of the best players in our league, he's playing like one of the better players in the country. And we need that to continue.

“But we're going to need more than that,” Anderson added. “We're going to need Alandise (Harris) to step up for us. Michael (Qualls) is going to have to step up for us. The guys coming off the bench have really got give us some big, big minutes.”

Qualls whose rebound dunk beat Kentucky 87-85 at Bud Walton Arena last season, suffered both a bloodied nose and ankle injury in Tuesday’s win.

He was back at practice on Thursday after the Razorbacks’ NCAA-mandated day off on Wednesday.

“Yesterday we were off, so he just kind of rested it,” Anderson said. “I'm sure he'll probably practice a little bit today. We'll watch it, though. He popped it again there in that game. His nose was bleeding and he was kind of wobbly out there. He was really gimpy out there.

“But he had the resolve and he had the heart to finish the game out,” Anderson added. “As a matter of fact, he got a couple of rebounds going down the stretch. We're going to need him to play well. We're going to need Bobby to play well. We're going to need our whole team to play well against this outstanding Kentucky team.”





Michael Qualls fires a jumper in last season's Arkansas 71-67 win over Kentucky at Rupp Arena.


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