It may only be the difference in 7-1 and 6-2 in the standings, but University of Arkansas fifth-year senior Charles Tatum sees Saturday afternoon's game with Oklahoma State University as holding far more importance.
"I think this is the pivotal point of our preseason," Tatum said. "...It is a statement game for us. We are going to approach this game like we do any other game, but with a little pride in our eyes because of last season."
Last season was a 71-45 humbling of the Razorbacks by the homestanding Cowboys in what was the first true road game for the UA squad's five freshmen contributors.
Arkansas (6-1) gets a chance to take some of the sting out of that game when Oklahoma State (5-1) comes calling for 4:05 p.m. game at Bud Walton Arena.
"We are starting to gel right now," Tatum said. "We are going at everybody with a full head of steam."
While the UA fans are hyped because of the return of former Arkansas and current OSU Eddie Sutton, the Razorback players - many who were either not born or just babies when Sutton coached his last game in Fayetteville back in 1985 - are just looking at it as an opportunity for a quality win.
"I think just knowing that we could come out and compete and beat a team like Oklahoma State could definitely do a lot for this team's confidence," Tatum said. "In college basketball, confidence is 90 percent of it. If we could come out here and stick to our keys and rebound well and get some pressure on the ball, I think we will be okay."
Arkansas, which used to be in the top four nationally in attendance, has averaged having just over 12,000 per game this season.
It's expected a season-high crowd will show up for Saturday's contest, including 6-6 junior college point guard Dontell Jefferson of Atlanta Metropolitan College on his official visit.
"We have always had a faithful following with the fans and I think they will see we are doing good things this season and start coming back out," Tatum said. "It's going to be rocking come conference play. It's going to be rocking Saturday."
Arkansas head coach Stan Heath also expects the atmosphere to be quite electric on Saturday.
"I'm really excited about what should be our biggest crowd of the year," Heath said. "That will bring us some energy...If we take care of the ball, take good shots, really defend them and play tough, we can win this basketball game."
Heath will make sure Tatum gets plenty of time after 6 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists in a season-high 25 minutes on Wednesday.
"Chuck is going to be out there on the court for us," Heath said. "His experience will help, his scrappiness will help. I really love the energy he provided and we are hoping he is going to carry that on and it will be contagious."
Oklahoma State is a team that provides Arkansas with a chance for its best win of the season.
""We have got a big challenge ahead of us on Saturday," Heath said. "Oklahoma State is playing good basketball. They lost a few keys guys last year, but replaced them with a few veterans."
Baylor transfer John Lucas III (10. has taken over the point, but it 6-4, 205-pound off guard Tony Allen (14.3) that's the key to the Cowboys ignition.
"The guy we really have to keep an eye on is Tony Allen," Heath said. "He's a terrific player and an outstanding athlete."
Oklahoma State also boasts 6-8, 237-pound forward Ivan McFarlin (11.5, 6.5 ) and 6-6 junior transfer Daniel Bobick (10.8 ).
"I have been impressed when I have watched the film on Oklahoma State with their transition game," Heath said. "They get the ball ahead quickly, they try to attack you right away one-on-one either off the dribble or posting you up inside. We have got to do a good job of getting back and getting our defense set.
"At the same time, last year we had a problem with this - and this year they are doing some of the same things - as they really try to take away some things of your passes on the perimeter," Heath added. "Last year I thought with Eric Ferguson we were kind of pigeonholed with one ballhandler, but now with Ronnie (Brewer) being able to handle the ball it should open the floor up a little bit."
Oklahoma State should come in ready to play since Sutton had them in football pads and helmets on the basketball course after getting outrebounded by BYU in its only loss.
"We did that when we were at Michigan State," Heath said. "We'd put our helmets and pads on, too. Unfortunately you can play with those on when the game starts. We know it is going to be war out there and we are just going to have to come ready to play and I sure they are going to strap it up the same way."
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