Arkansas could very well start a true freshman guard on Tuesday night against an Oklahoma team that will for sure start a pair.
Razorback head coach Mike Anderson said Monday that Dee Wagner will see considerable time running the point as his 3-3 squad host the Sooners (6-1) in a 6 p.m. game that will be nationally televised by ESPN2 from Bud Walton Arena.
Wagner had six point, three assists and no turnovers in 23 minutes of action last Friday night in a 91-82 loss to Syracuse, who moved up to four nationally on Monday.
"He is getting more comfortable," Anderson said of the 5-9, 180-pound who was named Mr. Basketball in Louisiana last season. "Our guys are getting more confident in him. I think both defensively and offensively things started to flow when he was out there. He is getting the ball to the right people at the right time. That makes a big difference."
Oklahoma has turned their backcourt over to a pair of 6-3 freshmen guards in Je'lorn Hornbeak (6.9) and Isaiah Cousins (3.7).
"I think they are good players," Anderson said. "They are long, big guards, athletic guards that do a good job of distributing the basketball. "Cousins is a guy than can knock down some shots," Anderson said.
Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger – who just got his 500th win Friday night when the Sooners rallied past Northwestern State 69-65 – is now bringing three starters off the bench.
He's got more weapons this year – Lon does," Anderson said. "I will say it again. It is a big game as all games are. But this one here is from a standpoint that it is a neighboring state to us and they got us down there. It will be a great opportunity to better for our guys."
The home team has won the last five games in the series with Oklahoma winning 79-63 last season in Norman.
"We play to win," Anderson said when asked if he feels better playing at home. "We play to win."
Former Mississippi State player Romero Osby (6-8, 232) leads a balanced Oklahoma attack with 11.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game while French-born forward and former Wyoming player Amath M'Baye (6-9, 208) is next at 10.1 points and 7.1 boards.
The Sooners - who play 10 guys on a regular basis - also start 6-4, 220-pound senior shooting guard Steven Pledger (9.9) .
The three former full-time starters off the bench - all seniors - in 6-8 senior forward Andrew Fitzgerald (7.3, 3.3), 6-6 junior guard Cameron Clarke (4.9) and 6-1 point guard Sam Grooms (1.9).
He also has 6-3 freshman Buddy Hield (8.9) and 6-7 junior forward Tyler Neal (2.4) all logging over double-digit minutes so far.
"This is going to be another challenge for our young players coming off a tough loss against Syracuse," Andersons said. "A game I thought we were within striking distance but just weren't able to get over the hump in terms of finishing off the game. We never could get the game within where we could have tied it or took the lead. But when you look at Syracuse they had some veteran guys step up.
"It's a learning curve again for our young basketball team but it will give our guys a chance to play at home in front of our fans and hopefully take care of business," Anderson added.
Oklahoma's depth does not mean that Arkansas' head coach will not try to stick to his plan of wearing down the other team.
"We always think that is going to be in our favor," Anderson said. "I still like our bench and I think our bench is playing with a lot of energy."
Anderson stressed that Arkansas' veterans have to shoot the ball better than they has been doing – especially from 3-point range.
B.J. Young is just 3-of-19 from the field while Mardracus Wade is 4-of-14 despite the fact he was 3-of-3 against Florida A&M.
"One of the things in basketball, you can play defense until you are blue in the face but you have got to be able to put the ball in the hole," Anderson said. "And we had some open shots that we didn't make. We got to the free throw line and that's a good thing and we made those free throws. But now comes the time where you have got to make shots. And the guys we expect to make shots are not making shots."
Anderson also noted that the Razorbacks have to defend their own goal better and lauded 6-7 junor college transfer Coty Clarke (9 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks) for doing that against Syracuse.
"Cody – you saw him exert his will on that game last night," Anderson said. " We have got to get better at defending the rim and he took two charges and probably blocked a couple of shots or changed trajectory.
"Jacorey Williams – the activeness, that is what I am looking for out of our guys," Anderson added of his 6-8 freshman forweard. "That we become more of a stopping team as opposed to scoring, getting it out of the basket and now we are going to the other end. We have got to stop people."
Arkansas will also play at No. 3 Michigan (7-0) on Saturday as it continues a non-conference gauntlet.
"This team is still learning each other," Anderson said. "The unfortunate – of fortunate part of it – is they are doing it against some pretty good basketball teams."
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Anderson took time at the start of of his Monday press conference to address the arrest of his son Mike, Jr. on a DWI charge over the weekend.
"I want to address about my son, Michael Jr. who is on our staff," Anderson said. "As a coach and a father I am disappointed with the events that occurred late on Saturday. Our staff serves as positive role models to our student-athletes. And in working with our administrative staff we placed Mike on indefinite suspension. It is indefinite.
"Our family will continue to support him throughout this challenge.," Anderson added. "My family and I request that you respect our privacy at this time with this matter."
He was asked about how his son's duties would be divided up.
"We have got a staff of veteran guys that have been with me for some 10 years – ever since I have been the head coach," Anderson said. "We have some people in place. Basketball operations is Jeff Daniels and we have an assistant to him to continue to make sure everything goes smooth."
O o o
He was also asked if he had any thoughts on the hiring process of the Razorbacks' new football coach.
"I have been focused on basketball," Anderson said. "That has been my forte – basketball, basketball. We are trying to get better."
Arkansas hosts Oklahoma
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