A year after losing five starters from a team that went to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Arkansas was expected to dwell in the cellar of the Southeastern Conference this season.
And while conference play doesn't start until Saturday, the Razorbacks have made the most noise in the non-conference with back-to-back home wins over Oklahoma and Texas – entering league play with a 12-1 record and the undivided attention of its counterparts.
"We're only 13 games in and there's a long way to go," Arkansas coach John Pelphrey said. "But to this point in time, there's something about this team. They do fight."
They have fought to the tune of 10 straight wins – the longest streak for any Arkansas team since the Razorbacks finished national runner-up in the 1994-95 season.
For a team that starts two juniors and three freshmen on most nights, that might be accomplishment enough, but guard Stefan Welsh said that isn't the case.
"The good thing about this team is we've been able to beat two probable Final Four teams and we haven't become complacent," Welsh said. "We still have a way to go.
"When conference opens up our record is 0-0. We'll go into it with that mindset."
Pelphrey noted the Razorbacks, who were picked to finish last in the SEC West, never bought into the hype.
"Arkansas has a proud history of competing in basketball games and playing as well as it possibly can in the non-conference, winning western division championships in the SEC and making it to March Madness," Pelphrey said. "We're not changing the goals and expectations at Arkansas.
"We talked about if those things aren't realistic for this team, we've got to work harder and overachieve until those things do become realistic."
Freshman point guard Courtney Fortson said whatever the conference season holds, Arkansas will continue to compete and won't use its youth as an excuse – just as it hasn't through the non-conference.
"That's what a lot of people have been saying – we're young, we're going to get the big head and not play hard," Fortson said. "But this is the face of our team now. We're going to play hard every game. Hopefully everything else will fall into place."
Not-so bench bums
Whether you're a golfer or a football player, if you show up in a Razorback uniform you might see the floor.
"Whoever puts one on is liable to get in the game for us," Pelphrey said.
Arkansas' bench came up big in its win over Texas, keeping the game close with Fortson and Michael Washington in foul trouble in the first half.
Arkansas led 16-14 when Washington picked up his second personal foul with 11:45 left in the first half. Rotating Brandon Moore and Marcus Monk into the game for the benched scoring leader, Arkansas was able to stay within striking distance, trailing 31-27 at halftime.
"Those guys got out there and competed with 20,000 people behind them," Pelphrey said. "Sometimes if your attitude is in the right place and your heart is in the right place, and you're focused on the right things it can help you play at a level you've never played before.
"There were some guys out there giving us performances and playing some positions out there in the first half that we don't always get a chance to practice."
Free throw "whoas"
Talk about a turnaround.
Just three days after struggling to a 2-of-8 free throw shooting performance in a win over North Texas, Fortson hit 7-of-10 in the Razorbacks' win over Texas Tuesday night.
"Coach Pelphrey pulled me aside before shoot-around and showed me what I was doing wrong," Fortson said. "On the ones I made my hand went a certain way and on the ones I missed my hand went out. I just focused on that and it helped me tonight."
Fortson scored 13 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in recording his third double-double of the season in the win.
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