Hogs dodge trap game

Michael Washington comes up big as Arkansas downs North Texas.

NORTH LITTLE ROCK – Sandwiched between a win over No. 4 Oklahoma and an impending date with Texas, Arkansas' trip to Alltel Arena seemed like a recipe for disaster Saturday.

The Razorbacks had lost five of their last seven games in North Little Rock, after all, and were just 4-5 all-time in the building.

But Arkansas overcame several lulls in play and more than 10 minutes without the lead for an 86-75 win over North Texas to improve to 11-1 on the season.

"This team is built off of heart," junior guard Stefan Welsh said. "We never thought for one second we were going to lose this basketball game."

While the Razorbacks never trailed by more than six points, they didn't take the lead for good until the 14:41 mark of the second half on a pair of free throws by Michael Washington.

Washington finished with a career-high 34 points and 11 rebounds – including 17 and nine in the second half.

"You know with Big Mike, I say this about him every game, we're going to ride him until he can't be rode no more," Arkansas freshman Courtney Fortson said. "We're going with him every single game."

It was Washington's seventh double-double of the season and sixth in seven games. Fortson said the double-doubles aren't surprising any more, but routine.

"He does it every day in practice," Fortson said. "Even when he's only 50 percent he does it." Welsh said Washington has been coming up big in big games since he stepped on campus three years ago.

"Every big game we've had here at Arkansas since our freshman year, he's always stepped up to the plate," Welsh said. "Our freshman year he gave Joakim Noah and Al Horford all they could handle. Last year at Oklahoma he gave Blake Griffin all he could handle. And then Tuesday you could see he can play head-to-head with some of the best big men in the country.

"I felt like he was slowed by his back early on in the season. His back is getting better. He's being able to log more and more minutes. Now he's down there taking charges, blocking shots, running the floor. It's just making our team that much better."

Welsh said the team has a different attitude this season, allowing it to never be out of a ball game.

"We hate losing," Welsh said. "The one loss we did have at Missouri State stuck with us. But we're riding high on confidence right now and when we're riding high on confidence, it's very hard to beat us."

Arkansas has won nine straight games since that loss in November and could likely be ranked next week following the attention-grabbing win over Oklahoma earlier this week. While optimistic about the hot play, Welsh said the Razorbacks aren't concerned where they wind up on the ballots.

"Before the season nobody thought we would be here," Welsh said. "And right now there are still a lot of people around the country that don't believe we are that good. We don't even know how good we can be.

"We're going to let our basketball play do the talking. If they put us in the top 25, they put us in. If they don't, they don't.

"Coming into this season we knew we had very little expectations. The only people that believed in us are the people inside our locker room and the people inside our athletic department. We know what kind of talent we have and we saw it on the first day, it was just a matter of everybody getting on the same page. We're still nowhere near where we want to be, but we're finding our way. If we can just continue to get better each and every day…the sky is the limit."

Courtney Fortson

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