Seeing Red

Second-ranked Texas (13-0) will not only be the best team Arkansas (7-7) has faced all season, but the Longhorns will be looking for revenge for last season's upset loss to the Razorbacks when the pair meet Tuesday night at 6 p.m. inside Bud Walton Arena.

A University of Arkansas hoops team that has met just half of its challenges so far this season must now face Texas - one of the biggest bullies in college basketball.

The Razorbacks (7-7) are set to host the No. 2 Longhorns (13-0) inside Bud Walton Arena Tuesday night at 6 p.m. in a game that will be televised live by ESPN2.

Texas has won 12 of its 13 games by double figures and owns wins over teams such as North Carolina, Michigan State and Pittsburgh to validate its credentials as one of the nation's elite.

"This basketball team is better than all of them, make no mistake about that," Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey said of his team's previous opponents. "They have tremendous, tremendous talent, talent and length and depth – easily can play 10 of 11 guys, super coaching.

"This is a basketball team that is going to have opportunity to be tremendous in their conference play, already been tremendous in their non-conference play and going to have a chance to be one of those teams that are left standing at the end of the day – maybe winning it all."

Texas is loaded with three projected first-round draft choices in the 2010 NBA draft in 6-7, 225-pound forward Damion James (16.5, 10.9), 6-10, 290-pound senior center Dexter Pittman (14.1, 6.9) and freshman guard Avery Bradley (10.6).

That trio joins guards Dogus Balbay (4.4) and Justin Mason (2.8) in the starting line-up, but a host of talented players such as 6-6, 238-pound junior Gary Johnson, 6-1 freshman guard J'Covan Brown (11.7) and Florida transfer Jai Lucas (7.3) heading up an extremely deep bench.

"It is a basketball team that possesses a tremendous amount of talent, long, athletic with really, really good basketball players and are extremely well-coached," Pelphrey said. "They may be our biggest rival so it's a big game for us tomorrow night."

This game is a rematch of Arkansas' 67-61 win over Texas last season – a win which moved the Razorbacks to 12-1 at that point only to see them skid to a 2-15 finish.

"It would certainly be big," Pelphrey said. "It would give us our eighth win of the year and that is what we are looking for obviously. All these games are important. This one is a little bit bigger game because of the rivalry between the two schools and the history and tradition of it. It is important to a lot of people. But to set here and say the impact that it would have on our season - well, the season is not over win or lose this basketball game...Obviously we won last year and it didn't go too well the rest of the way."

Arkansas is coming in off a heartbreaking 72-71 home loss to No. 24 UAB on a dunk right before the buzzer by Blazer Howard Chapman.

"I think we are making progress as a basketball team," Pelphrey said. "We had a chance the other day to beat the 24th-ranked team in the country.

The coach was pleased, but not surprised with how his team responded in a morning practice on Monday– a day the Razorbacks had a pair of workouts.

"We have come back well," Pelphrey said. "Like I said, I like these guys' character. I like these guys and the way they work. They were very spirited this morning in the workout that we had. Like I have said this is the hardest working group of guys I have had in three years. They embrace coaching more than any other group. They understand it is a team thing. Certainly from an academic side they are more serious than any other bunch. We just need to continue to improve. They just show up and work. That wasn't easy."

Neither will be playing Texas, who ironically is playing back-to-back in Fayetteville that are sandwiched by a pair of games in Austin.

"From an offensive side, they shoot a very high percentage (49.3 percent), almost made more free throws (225) than their opponents have taken (234) – which is a big number – and they offensively rebound the basketball and rebound overall with almost a 10 differential there.

"Another very impressive stat – because they do have some first year guys and sometimes when you are playing a lot of people, too and taking care of the basketball because a problem - but as a team they have a positive assist-to-turnover ratio," Pelphrey added. "That's impressive.

"The defensive numbers are off the charts with where they are holding their opponents field goal wise (34. 5 percent), three-point percentage (28.9 percent) and really just try to apply a lot of pressure to you and they do. Not only do they try, they execute it."

Barring a setback, Arkansas will have 6-9, 240-pound Michael Washington in the starting line-up once again. After seeing limited action against Baylor, Washington return with 18 points and 7 rebounds in 28 minutes of action in the loss to UAB.

"Mike, every since kind of toward halftime of the Baylor game or whatever, he has been loosened up and practiced every single day," Pelphrey said "He is doing fine."

Arkansas will no doubt need a huge effort from Washington – as it got in last season's win over Texas – for another victory over the Longhorns.

Washington had 22 points in last season's win while fellow senior Stefan Welsh added 20.

"For us to be able to have a chance to compete with this, we are going to have our best game of the year, understand what we are doing both offensively and defensively, take care of that basketball and rebound it because they are capable of playing volleyball with it until they get a shot or until they make it," Pelphrey said. "That has been a problem for us – rebounding the basketball.

"We just have to see if we can somehow hang in there and get to the end of the game and have a shot," Pelphrey said. "We need a few good things to happen for us. We have tremendous respect for these guys and I know it will be an unbelievable atmosphere so we are looking forward to it."

O o o

Courtney Fortson, last season's starting point guard who has missed all of this season's games due, was visually observed practicing on Monday.

Pelphrey was asked if Fortson would play on Tuesday.

As of right now, no he is not," Pelphrey said.

Could that change?

"I can't answer that question," Pelphrey said.

Are you confident he will be back this season?

"Am I confident he will be back this season? I don't know how to answer that," Pelphrey said. "I would say that he has the opportunity to be back. I think we would all like for him to get back. I am probably a little surprised that we are here so I can't really say anything with 100 percent confidence. I wished I could, but that probably wouldn't be too intelligent comment on my part to say that I am confident one way or the other.

"I know that we have worked very hard and diligent and try to mentor and lead and put these guys in a situation where they could be successful," Pelphrey added. "I am 100 percent confident in that. We''ll see. We will just have to wait and see."

Is is safe to say that the ball is squarely in his court regarding a return to action?

"Yes," Pelphrey said. "I don't need to do anything. I am doing all I need to do."

O o o

Arkansas will be once again be without power forward Michael Sanchez, who will be his sixth straight game and has played in only 4 of 14 so far this season because of plantar faciitis.

"The update would be that he is still not practicing," Pelphrey said. "I guess we are kind of getting to a point where it is unchartered territory. I think we all thought he would be back by now and he is kind of not. That one is a little tough to handle sometimes because I don't have a lot of information."

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