When Arkansas' basketball schedule was released last August, this game didn't draw too much attention. Sure, the Razorbacks' matchup tonight against Baylor gives them the chance to play before their sizable fan base in Dallas. But the Big 12 Conference opponents that stirred followers' interests were Missouri and Oklahoma.
Turns out the Bears could provide the stiffest test of Arkansas' nonconference slate, which ends with the 7:30 p.m. contest in the American Airlines Center.
With an 11-1 record and a large group of talented, sharp-shooting guards, Baylor has commanded the attention of first-year coach John Pelphrey and his Hogs.
"It will take our best effort of the year, offensively and defensively," Pelphrey said. "(Baylor coach) Scott Drew has done a very good job. They have a lot of talent, and with the schedule they've played, they have some great wins in there."
The Baylor turnaround is remarkable considering how far the program had fallen.
A scandal at the school in 2003 devastated the basketball team. One of the squad's players, Carlton Dotson, was charged with the murder of teammate Patrick Dennehy, and coach Dave Bliss resigned after lying to investigators about payments to players.
Drew, Valparaiso's head coach at the time, was then hired to rebuild. The road wouldn't be easy. Scholarships and recruiting visits were reduced. Postseason play was canceled for the first two seasons. Baylor wasn't even allowed to play nonconference games in the 2005-06 season.
But Drew steadily recruited. And now, he has Baylor in position to challenge for an NCAA Tournament berth. The Bears defeated Wichita State, Notre Dame and Winthrop to win the 2007 Paradise Jam, and they rallied from 20 points down to claim a victory at South Carolina. Their lone loss came by three points at home to No. 4 Washington State.
Suddenly, a neutral-site win over Baylor has become a potential resume builder.
"This is a key game for us because this is something that can help us down the road," Arkansas senior Gary Ervin said. "The last couple of games, that's all we've been talking about — games like this. We need to be able to look back at the end of the year and say that we got a few quality wins in the nonconference.
"A win like this can help us with getting in (to the NCAA Tournament)."
The recipe for stopping Baylor starts and ends with its backcourt, a group of five guards who average more than 22 minutes per game. Arkansas can't allow the Bears to make 3-point shots at a rapid pace, as they constantly love to do.
The Bears have four guards who shoot better than 40 percent from 3-point range, and freshman guard LaceDarius ranks 16th nationally in 3-point percentage (28-of-58, .483).
"In transition, we will have to find their guys," Pelphrey said. "We hope to limit their number of attempts. We need to hold them to one-and-done."
If the Razorbacks can't, they may look back in March and regret it.
"This one game could make us or break us," Arkansas senior Sonny Weems said. "You never know which games will help you get in the tournament. Actually, we do know that this one would help."
ARKANSAS VS. BAYLOR
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. TV: ARSN (Cox Ch. 8)
WHERE: American Airlines Center, Dallas
RADIO: KXIO-FM 106.9; KEZA-FM 107.9; KKEG-FM 92.1; KFPW-AM 1230; KQBK-FM 104.7; KHGG-AM 1580; KHGG-FM 103.1; KDYN-AM 1540; KDYN-FM 96.7; KTTG-FM 96.3
COACHES: Arkansas, John Pelphrey (10-3, 1st season; 90-70 overall, 6 seasons); Baylor, Scott Drew (11-1, 5th season; 78-81, 6 seasons)
SERIES: Arkansas leads 93-46
G Stefan Welsh 6-2 So. 5.4
G Patrick Beverley 6-1 So. 12.4
F Sonny Weems 6-6 Sr. 11.3
F Charles Thomas 6-8 Jr. 9.5
C Steven Hill 7-0 Sr. 4.4
G Henry Dugat 6-0 Jr. 10.4
G Curtis Jerrells 6-1 Jr. 14.3
G Aaron Bruce 6-3 Sr. 11.2
F Kevin Rogers 6-9 Jr. 12.1
C Josh Lomers 7-0 So. 5.4
Who To Guard?
Baylor ranks 15th nationally in 3-point field goals per game (9.5) and 31st nationally in 3-point percentage (40.6). The Bears can hurt their opponents in multiple ways, as four of their guards rank in the top 100 nationally in 3-point percentage.
Player 3FG-3FGA Pct.
LaceDarius Dunn 28-58 .483
Tweety Carter 21-47 .447
Aaron Bruce 24-59 .407
Curtis Jerrells 25-62 .403
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