Now that Arkansas has climbed back to .500 overall, the Razorbacks will get a chance to do the same thing in SEC play.
Arkansas (14-14, 7-8) will visit Tennessee (13-15, 6-9) Saturday night at 6:30 p.m. in an effort to sweep the season series and earn its second true road win.
The Razorbacks downed the Vols 85-67, but Tennessee has won four straight home games and are 12-2 overall in Thompson-Boling Arena this season with losses only to Texas A&M and Vanderbilt.
“Tennessee, No. 1 is a team that has some athletic guys,” Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said. “ They are undersized but they play well at home. They lost two games at home. Vandy got them there early in the year and Texas A&M got them there.
“It’s a team we played early in the year and we shot the ball well. I thought we defended well in that particular game but that game has no bearings on this game coming up.”
The Razorbacks have just three regular season games left with this game, a road game at Alabama and finish the regular season by hosting South Carolina a week from Saturday.
“It’s winding down and teams are kind of jockeying for position and seeds in the tournament,” Anderson said. “Everybody wants to be playing some of their better basketball and hopefully we are playing some.”
Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes will be without his best player in guard Kevin Punter (22.2), who is out with an stress fracture.
“He’s day to day,” Barnes said Friday. “He’s not going to play tomorrow, but he’s still trying to do the rehab. The kind of kid he is, he’s hoping to have a chance to get back and play, but what he’s got, that stress fracture is something that’s tough to deal with.
“He’s doing everything he can to where hopefully he can get it quieted down enough. It’ll be up to him, but he won’t play tomorrow.”
Even without Punter, Tennessee blitzed LSU 81-65 at home last Saturday before being routed at South Carolina 84-58 on Wednesday.
That last result caused Barnes – in his first year at Tennessee after a long tenure at Texas - to have a heart-to-heart with his team.
“I think it’s a never-ending message,” Barnes said. “Everyday you’re dealing with young students that don’t understand they’ve been given a great opportunity.
“What we don’t ever want anyone to feel—coaches included—is a sense of entitlement, that it’s just going to be there. Take advantage of every single day, we want them to get up knowing that. Practice. When you’re dealing with young people it’s a constant reminder that we need to make something out of today.”
That’s a sentiment shared by Anderson, whose team has won two straight after a three-game losing streak in which he played its worst basketball of the season.
“This team (Arkansas) hadn't really just played bad basketball,” Anderson said. “They had maybe a couple of games where they didn't play well, so we've been so close. And so I don't believe these guys have lost faith in themselves. I certainly haven't.
“I said the other night and I'll say it again. I just think our teams tend to start playing some of their better basketball this time of year because guys understand their roles. They've got a better feeling of it. “
The bench outscored LSU’s bench 32-0 on Wednesday in Arkansas’ 85-65 win with Trey Thompson scoring a career-high 13 points and grabbing 16 and Jimmy Whitt adding 12 points.
“Look at Jimmy Whitt,” Anderson said. “He looks totally different now than he did early in the year, and he was starting. But he don't have that pressure now of having to do that. Just go out and play basketball.
“Trey Thompson is another guy that's playing with a lot more confidence in what we're doing. Manuel Watkins. Anton Beard is getting into a better rhythm. “
“So you're getting more guys that are playing well. I think they're trusting each other offensively and defensively and they've been in ball games. So it's not beating yourself.”