Razorbacks Begin With Upset-Minded Volunteers

Second-seeded and No. 21 Arkansas (24-7) will open its SEC Tournament action Friday night at 6 p.m. against 10th-seeded Tennessee (16-15), who upset seventh-seeded Vanderbilt 67-61 Thursday night in Nashville by scoring 20 of the game's final 22 points. Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson, Tennessee head coach Donnie Tyndall and the player preview the match up.

NASHVILLE - Arkansas’ quest to win the SEC Tournament or at least help its NCAA Tournament seeding will begin Friday against a surprising foe that could not have ended its last game on a better note.

Josh Richardson had 22 points and Robert Hubbs 16 and 10th-seeded Tennessee finished the game on a 20-2 run to upset seventh-seeded Vanderbilt 67-61 Thursday night and end the Commodores' five-game winning streak.

That means the No. 21 and second-seeded Razorbacks (24-7) will meet the Volunteers (16-15) - who had lost six of their last seven games and split a pair with Arkansas this season - on Friday night at 6 p.m. with the two teams having split a home-and-home series.

"They are a team that kind of hangs around," Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said of Tennessee. "They play a match-up zone and do a good job with that. They have some athletic guys that have played well. They were really hot early on and I guess as the season goes on teams get a chance to play a little bit better against you."

Tennessee downed Arkansas 74-69 in Knoxville back on Jan. 13 while the Razorback whipped the Vols 69-64 two weeks later in Fayetteville.

Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls both had 17 points to lead Arkansas in its win while Richardson had 17 for Tennessee in the loss.

“Tennessee, they are small but they are athletic," Qualls said. "They play passing lanes really well. I think (the loss in Knoxville) was one of the games we really turned the ball over. And that's what we try to get other teams to do. So they can be a dangerous team. We can't take them for granted."

Tennessee head coach Donnie Tyndall didn't try to hide the fact of how big a challenge his team will have facing a rested Arkansas team that features SEC Player of the Year in Portis.

"Have you seen their team? And you think we matchup pretty well? I don't know we have six guys that equal Bobby Portis," Tyndall said. "But I know what you are saying in terms of play and athleticism. We have some length. But they are well-coached. Mike's teams always play hard.

"They have obviously a first-round (NBA) pick in Bobby that anchors everything they do offensively and defensively," Tyndall added. "They are going to press and get after us a lot like how we try to play.

"I think the biggest thing for us will be we have to contain dribble penetration," Tyndall continued. "Do the best we can to neutralize Portis inside. The second part of that is if we do make them miss, we've got to be able to rebound the ball. If you give them that second and third shot opportunity, you've got no chance."

Tyndall knows he has to get his guys some rest after four of his starters played over 30 minutes and Tennessee is really only seven deep.

"Well, we have got to get hydrated tonight," Tyndall said. "Get in ice baths and try to get our legs back as soon as possible. We probably won't do anything on the floor tomorrow.

"That's a huge challenge, no question, because Arkansas is a deep team," Tyndall said. "They're a team that wears on you with the press and their style of play. We are just going to have to depend on our bench a little more. We'll have to. The fact that these guys are fighting for their basketball lives, hopefully they don't get tired."

Tyndall said Tennessee's coaches and playesr would go right into prep for the Razorbacks.

"We'll get back and get them in the film room," Tyndall said. "We'll start watching film here in about 30 minutes. This time of year, you don't have time to enjoy it. You just move on to the next one and you're relieved and excited that you are going to get to play. But there is not time to bask in the glory if you will."

Richardson is not worried about getting tired and feels like Tennessee - who shot 40 percent from the field overall and hit just 3 of 21 3-pointers before making its final four of the night - matches up well.

"Arkansas's a great team and I think we have good match ups with them," Richardson said. "They haven't beaten us by very much when they did at their house so I think it will be a close game."

Hubbs echoed that same sentiment.

"They're a good team and they're going to be aggressive," Hubbs said. "We just have got to match their intensity. We are going to come out here and play team ball and just play the way we play."

Arkansas has not won a game at the SEC Tournament since 2008 with Anderson’s teams being 0-3 in that time.

“We're looking forward to turning that script around,” Anderson said. “And the only way you do it is, you've got to get past that first game. But I really feel our team is made up to get to this point of the year, because of the depth that we have.

“The quick turnaround, as we prepare for everybody, teams have to prepare for us,” Anderson added. “I think that's a good thing for us. But the key is going to be that first game. Getting past that first game so you can get in a rhythm and get to the next day.”

Qualls said that his team does not focus on the past, but is aware of the streak of futility at the SEC Tournament.

“Just because we're not focused on the past doesn't mean it doesn't register we haven't won a game,” Qualls said. “ So of course we want to go in and we want to win games. I feel like every good basketball player wants to win games.

“You can be one of the best players in the world, but I don't feel like you'll get the real recognition that you deserve if you're not a winner,” Qualls added. “We just want to keep on focusing on making this a winning program. Just stay humble, and everything else will fall into place for us.”

Qualls also thinks that Arkansas’ best basketball of the season is still ahead of it as it heads into the post-season.

“All of us know as a team, the Razorback Nation, we know we haven't played our best ball yet,” Qualls said. “We know everything that we get is a blessing. Everything that we get is an achievement and don't think we are not humble.

“But we are hungry at the same time,” Qualls added. “We still have to put together 40 total minutes. I don't feel the nation has seen Arkansas basketball play a full 40 minutes of what we can actually play with all cylinders, and that's saying all players having a good game.”

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