Arkansas will spend a lot of time in Mississippi this week with the Razorbacks hoping to pick up a couple of wins that could jump-start them to an end of the season run.
Arkansas (12-11, 5-5) will visit Mississippi State (9-13, 2-8) Tuesday night at 8 p.m. and then face Ole Miss (15-8, 5-5) in its new arena on Saturday at 1 p.m.
The Razorbacks – who have lost eight games by four points or less this season - are 1-6 in true road games this season with a win at Missouri and several close losses, including three in overtime.
“We have been competitive in games on the road, but we want to have a chance to hopefully go to that next level and that is to win on the road,” Razorback head coach Mike Anderson said. “You have got to play some sound basketball when you do that.
“You’ve got to not turn the ball over, you have got to shoot well and I am hoping that our defense travels and that is going to be a big key.”
Florida downed Arkansas 87-83 last week in Gainesville, another in the list of heartbreaking close losses on the road.
“I think the encouraging thing about it is it’s easy with those close losses that your confidence or your play goes the other direction,” Anderson said. “But I think our guys are still coming in with the same mindset of putting themselves in position to win.
“Now if we can cut out the mental errors that we have had and clean it up (instead of) breaking our own momentum whether it be a turnover or not defending at the right time and making a play. If we can clean up those areas of putting people on the line and play defense, really good defense, and continue to be efficient offensively, I think we will be fine.”
Arkansas downed Mississippi State 82-68 back on Jan. 9 as the Razorbacks hit 16 3-pointers with Dusty Hannahs making eight en route to career-high 26 points and Anthlon Bell adding five treys and 25 points.
“We are going against a Mississippi State team that we played earlier in the year,” Anderson said. “We played them our first home conference game and it took 16 threes to pull out a win against a Ben Howland-coached team.
“It is going to be challenge for us to go into The Hump (Humphrey Coliseum) in Starkville and play against a Mississippi State team that I’m sure is going to be ready to play.”
Arkansas routed Tennessee 85-67 on Saturday night in Fayetteville, which caught the attention of Howland, the former UCLA head coach in his first year in Starkville.
“We've got our hands full,” Howland said. “I think Arkansas had a great win in their last outing against Tennessee and Tennessee had been playing really well, having just defeated Kentucky.
“So it's a tough matchup from the standpoint that they're very athletic, they play small. They're a very good motion team offensively. And then they obviously - as everyone knows - thrive on pressure and really try to get into you defensively, including pressing you. So it's a big challenge for us.”
Mississippi State has five players averaging in double figures in 6-9, 260-pound senior forward Gavin Ware (16.2, 7.1), 6-3 freshman guard Malik Newman (13.1), 6-3 senior Craig Sword (10.7), 6-4 freshman guard Quinndary Weatherspoon (10.4) and 5-11 junior guard I.J. Ready (10.1), the former Little Rock Parkview star.
“When you have seniors such as Gavin Ware, a guy that has had a tremendous career up until this point, a senior in Craig Sword, who had a monster game at our place, it means we are going to have our work cut out for us,” Anderson said.
“I.J. Ready is a young man from the state of Arkansas and we will get his best shot and of course you have a super talented player in Malik Newman.”
Anderson, who expects 6-10 senior center Moses Kingsley back in the starting line up on Tuesday, believes that the Bulldogs have improved since that first meeting.
“I think they have improved and we have improved in a lot of areas.,” Anderson said. “They have got a senior oriented team. They have got five seniors on that basketball team. You can see that we got a lot of new players and Ben Howland is just getting there so his kids are finally getting to understand him and what he is demanding of that team and it takes time.
“That’s the same scenario with our basketball team, guys understanding their roles and what they bring to the table and getting guys to come off the bench and give you big-time energy. So I see some teams that have gotten better and sometimes it’s not reflected in their record but they are a team that is getting better.
“They played well at Rupp and they are a team that I think in the end will be reckoned with.”
Malik Newman, Dusty Hannahs