Before his Razorbacks left for their four-day holiday break, Arkansas coach John Pelphrey raved about their play in consecutive victories over Austin Peay and Stephen F. Austin.
He credited his team's recent six-game winning steak to embracing the goals his coaching staff laid out before the season began.
Pelphrey said earlier this week that he spoke back in October about playing hard, exhibiting an "unbelievable attitude," grasping the team concept and being committed to defense.
Arkansas' sweep in the Jim Thorpe Classic proved to him that it was possible for the Hogs to exhibit all four at the same time.
"I think these last two games, we've been closer to those things than we've been all season long," Pelphrey said. "Hopefully, they won't forget everything over the break."
Well, the Razorbacks get their first opportunity to see whether they can avoid regressing when Northwestern (La.) State visits Bud Walton Arena today. The 5:05 p.m. matchup — the Hogs' first nationally televised game of the season (ESPN2) — opens a four-game stretch that should reveal far more about Arkansas than its first nine contests.
Sure, the Hogs opened up 8-1, "where we hoped to be" after nine games, Pelphrey said. They displayed heart in rallying to beat Southeastern Louisiana in their opener, they won in dramatic fashion at South Alabama and they followed that victory up with five more.
The schedule gets drastically tougher in a hurry, though, as the Razorbacks encounter this four-game, 11-day stretch.
"I'm not surprised how we've started," junior forward Michael Washington said. "We worked really hard coming into this season. We still have to improve a lot and work better together, but we're playing the way we know how to."
Northwestern State (8-4) hasn't beaten a quality opponent but has gained experience playing at Indiana, LSU and Miami.
Arkansas takes on fourth-ranked Oklahoma (12-0) on Tuesday, plays North Texas (8-3) on Jan. 3 in North Little Rock and hosts ninth-ranked Texas (10-2) on Jan. 6.
"We realize that we're going to start having some harder games," said freshman point guard Courtney Fortson, who ranks second for Arkansas in scoring with 15.7 points per game. "It's a challenge that we're excited for, and hopefully ready for."
Northwestern State at Arkansas
When: 5:05 p.m.
Where: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville
TV: ESPN2 (Cox Ch. 24)
Radio: KEZA-FM 107.9, KKEG-FM 92.1, KUOA-AM 1290, FM 105.3
Records: Northwestern State Demons, 8-4; Arkansas Razorbacks, 8-1
Coaches: Northwestern State, Mike McConathy (11th season); Arkansas, John Pelphrey (second season)
Series: Arkansas leads 6-1
Last Meeting: The Razorbacks won 90-59 on Dec. 19, 2007, in Fayetteville
Northwestern State (8-4)
Pos. Player Ht. Class PPG
G Michael McConathy 5-9 Jr. 6.8
G Damon Jones 6-4 Jr. 12.1
F Devin White 6-7 So. 11.8
F C.J. Clark 6-7 Sr. 5.6
C William Mosley 6-7 Fr. 7.1
Pos. Player Ht. Class PPG
G Courtney Fortson 5-11 Fr. 15.7
G Rotnei Clarke 6-0 Fr. 13.2
G Marcus Britt 6-3 So. 3.9
F Michael Sanchez 6-8 Fr. 7.6
F Michael Washington 6-9 Jr. 16.1
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