Hogs eye upset of No. 6 Dogs

Improving Arkansas (11-10, 3-7) takes its shot at continuing home mastery of SEC frontrunner Mississippi State (20-1, 9-1) in Saturday clash at 7:05 p.m.

While there's no doubt that the University of Arkansas has owned Mississippi State University in Fayetteville, this is a whole new breed of Bulldogs coming into Bud Walton Arena on Saturday night.

A breed that is 10-0 on the road this season, 5-0 in SEC action away from home and without question the best team in the league right now.

"I think it is very obvious," Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury said. "There's no secret anymore. We are a very good basketball team."

So that's why No. 6 Mississippi State (20-1, 9-1) relishes a chance to end an eight-game Fayetteville losing streak to the Razorbacks (11-10, 3-7) when tip-off rolls around at 7:05 p.m.

"Our kids have proven they have the opportunity to go on the road and be successful and have the opportunity to win," Stansbury said. "We are going to have to play well because Arkansas is a very good basketball team, but we really like our basketball team."

The Bulldogs will come into the contest off a thrilling 79-75 win at South Carolina on Wednesday night, a game in which MSU rallied from an 12-point, second half deficit to prevail in overtime before 17,792 hostile fans.

"Mississippi State is playing at just such a high, high level," Arkansas head coach Stan Heath said. "That was a tremendous win for them last night. They go on the road at South Carolina in front of a lot of fans and pull off a win like that, that just shows that team is for real."

Stansbury said he was proud of his team and it faces another challenge this Saturday in regrouping and getting re-energized after the big win.

"It's going to be tough going back on the road again," Stansbury said. "We left a lot physically and mentally up at Columbia last night. We have got to find a way to regroup and go to another very difficult place to play."

Heath, while not putting any credence in the streak, does feel like his team is playing better than it was earlier in the season when the Bulldogs pounded the Razorbacks 80-62 in Starkville.

His confidence is up because of a three-game home winning streak against Ole Miss, Vandy and Auburn and some improved play on the road lately, such as a 69-65 loss at Tennessee on Wednesday.

"We are excited about playing at home again," Heath said. "We have had a two-game road stretch, played good basketball until the last few minutes of the game where it seems like we aren't handling situations as well as we would like and making the plays we need to make offensively and defensively."

Heath said he had been thinking a lot about the loss to Tennessee.

"Losing is never any fun," Heath. "I feel good that the guys are playing well. It's good that I can look in the mirror and say that we are playing well as a team, but at the end of the day, you want to win. What is encouraging is that we have put ourselves in that position. I feel like we let one get away, but now we're a step closer to getting one."

He knows that his youthful team responds well to the Bud Walton Arena crowd.

"The motivating factor for us is that we need a win," Heath said. "That's the biggest motivation. I think our players as well as our fans realize that in Bud Walton we have the ability to take our team to a different level. This is the team in our league that is playing the best basketball, that is the hottest team going right now.

"I am not sure you can go back in the archives (of the winning streak) and that is going to make as big a difference as what needs to take place Saturday to win the game," Heath added. "That's good solid basketball, good defense, rebounding nd playing well offensively."

Stansbury doesn't give much credence to the streak.

"I have been here for 14 years and the last eight years we have taken some awful good teams up there, some SEC championship teams, the Final Four team and weren't very successful," Stansbury said. "...But we are a totally different basketball team. This will be the first time this basketball team has ever traveled there."

Certainly one area that Arkansas has improved in is inside with the play of forward Matt Jones, who is classified as a sophomore in basketball although he was a junior in football this past season.

The 6-7, 238-pound Jones had career highs of 14 points and 10 rebounds in a loss at LSU last Saturday and had 7 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists while playing a career-high 36 minutes against Tennessee.

"A big part of that is Matt Jones and him being a more vocal part of our team and being more involved offensively and defensively," Heath said. "It really changes a lot of things for us. It gives us a lot of pressure relief. He is very intelligent out there on the court and is deceptively quick and athletic. He gives us a calming influence for the younger players out there on the court."

Jones will certainly be needed to battle Mississippi State star Lawrence Roberts (6-9, 230), who is the frontrunner for player of the year in the SEC.

Roberts, who transferred from Baylor and was granted immediate eligibility, is averaging 17.1 points and 9.9 rebounds and dominated Arkansas with 29 points and 10 rebounds in the first game when Jones was just out of football and played just a single minute.

"He's been a great pick-up and he's been just a great fit," Stansbury said. "I think that is what makes our team so special...We have different people stepping up every night, but more importantly people have great roles on this team. I think just doesn't understand their roles, they accept them and embrace them. They embrace the team more than individuals."

Bowers is chipping in 15.6 points per game while forward Branden Vincent had a whopping 18 rebounds in the win over South Carolina.

When you play Mississippi State you have to give Lawrence Roberts and Timmy Bowers some attention, but the other part of that equation is that they are putting four and five in double figures and those guys are good players."

Heath hopes to see his team play at a high level - one that is a must for victory according to the second-year UA head coach.

"We have got to find a way to protect home and we realize that while we have had some success over the years (against them), this is a new year," Heath said. "We are a different team and they are a different team. We feel like we are going to have to play at an unbelievable level to pull off an upset here."

Heath said Thursday afternoon that his team would have to forget about the loss to Tennessee and team with the crowd for a win.

"We have to get our heads out of the sand," Heath said. "We've got to get our emotion and juices flowing. I hope our fans come out because we need them. It's a chance for us to get a big win at home."


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