The Razorbacks, coached by second year coach John Pelphrey, have been laying in wait for the hated Longhorns since last year around NCAA Tournament time when Texas head coach Rick Barnes made some comments about not playing the game if the Longhorns weren't treated well in Little Rock for the first and second round NCAA Tournament games.
Somewhat lost in the talk of last year's comments is the fact that the youthful Razorbacks are playing impressive basketball this year entering Tuesday night with an 11-1 record led by explosive freshman point guard Courtney Fortson, fellow freshman sharpshooter Rotnei Clarke and junior forward Michael Washington. Washington averages a double double at 17.4 points and 10.4 rebounds.
Most recently, Arkansas beat North Texas 86-75 on Saturday, but it was a convincing win December 30 over the then undefeated Oklahoma Sooners that caught everyone's attention. While the final score was 96-88, the Razorbacks were in control of the game from the start and raced out to a 53-38 halftime lead.
The Longhorns will likely take the court Tuesday without senior big man Connor Atchley, who took a hard hit Friday night splitting his tongue and requiring 33 stitches to close.
If Atchley can't go, the Longhorn's top team defender, screener and key to floor spacing will not be available. Against an ultra quick and explosive guard such as Fortson, the Longhorn defensive rotation will be severely tested and others must step up to defend the basket.
For Texas, the play of Gary Johnson on the offensive end and rebounding the ball in recent games has been impressive. In the last three games, the sophomore forward has averaged 17.7 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots per game.
Tuesday's tip is set for 8pm Central and will be televised on ESPN2.
Arkansas leads the all-time series 85-65 with the Longhorns winning the last meeting, December 20, 2006 in Austin 80-76.
A Look at the Coaches
Rick Barnes, who is in his eleventh season at Texas, coaches the Longhorns. Barnes has a career record of 460-229, including 258-95 at Texas. Barnes is 16-10 in NCAA Tournament games at Texas.
John Pelphrey is in his second year at Arkansas. He is 34-13 at Arkansas and 114-80 overall at Arkansas and South Alabama. Pelphrey has a 1-2 record in NCAA Tournament play.
A Look at the Numbers
Texas shoots 45.0% from the field, 35.9% from three and 63.9% from the free-throw line.
The Razorbacks convert 47.4% overall, 38.8% from the three-point line and 65.5% from the foul line.
The Longhorns surrender just 38.6% shooting and own a +5.5 rebound advantage.
Arkansas gives up 41.9% defensively and checks in with a +10.0 rebounding margin.
The Longhorns are committing 12.8 turnovers per game, while Arkansas is turning the ball over 14.2 times per contest.
The Longhorn Starters
G Justin Mason 6-2 Jr. (6.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.5 assists)
G A.J. Abrams 5-10 Sr. (19.0 points, 2.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists)
F Damion James 6-7 Jr. (14.4 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.3 steals)
F Gary Johnson 6-6 So. (10.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.1 blocks)
C Dexter Pittman 6-10 Jr. (9.0 points, 4.6 rebounds)
Key reserves include 6-1 freshman Varez Ward (3.4 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists) and 6-10 sophomore Clint Chapman (1.9 points, 2.1 rebounds), 6-0 sophomore Dogus Balbay (1.2 rebounds and 1.7 assists) and 6-10 sophomore Matt Hill.
The Razorback Starters
G Courtney Fortson 5-10 Fr. (15.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 7.3 assists)
G Rotnei Clarke 5-11 Fr. (12.7 points and 1.8 rebounds)
G Stefan Welsh 6-3 Jr. (13.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists)
F Michael Washington 6-9 Jr. (17.4 points and 10.4 rebounds)
F Michael Sanchez 6-8 Fr. (7.2 points, 6.8 rebounds)
Key reserves are 6-3 sophomore Marcus Britt (4.3 points and 1.3 steals), 6-9 freshman Andre Clark (3.4 points and 2.3 rebounds), 6-6 senior Marcus Monk (4.0 points and 2.8 rebounds) and 6-9 freshman Brandon Moore (2.8 points and 2.0 rebounds).
Keys to the Game
Texas must match the energy early by Arkansas and not dig a hole that they can not get out of without offensive firepower. The crowd will be wild, there will be 19,000 plus in the stands and the Razorbacks will force tempo and look to feed off of the crowd.
Arkansas has made a living this season forcing teams to live and die by the three-point shot and beating up teams on the boards. Texas can't become three-point and jump shot dependent. The Longhorns must attack off the dribble and work patiently to get the ball inside.
Texas has to defend the three-point line as the Razorbacks have a number of guys that knock down 38% or more on the season in sharpshooter Rotnei Clarke, Fortson, Welsh and Britt. Clarke, like Abrams for Texas, simply can't be given space for a clean look. The freshman is one of the top shooters in the country. Controlled close outs with a hand in the face is key on Fortson, Welsh and Britt.
The Longhorns need to pressure the ball, but with the understanding that trying to defend Fortson tight will give way for blow by, straight line driving opportunities at times as the freshman is quick and explosive. Making Fortson a jump shooter isn't a bad idea as long as Texas blocks out. Michael Washington is a skilled offensive rebounder and takes advantage of second chance opportunities. Fortson struggles at the foul line, so hard fouls going to the basket are required as making him earn points at the line is key.
Offensively, the Longhorns must force the issue and drive the ball against man-to-man. Without Atchley as a ball screener, the Longhorns must look for the mismatch and attack off the bounce. Justin Mason has to look to score in this game.
This is a game in which Pittman may be pulled away from the basket and get winded if Arkansas plays at their desired pace, which puts up nearly 83 points per game. That means the Longhorns must slow the pace on offense when Pittman is in the game and get the ball inside. If Pittman plays limited minutes Tuesday because of pace, the Texas guards and wings must understand to take advantage of his abilities on offense for the stretches he plays. Quick, one-pass jump shots aren't a good shot as long rebounds turn into transition opportunities and Pittman gets quickly winded trying to hustle back on defense.
Gary Johnson must play big on offense in this game. If Sanchez or Washington guards him, Texas must get him the ball in the mid-range, space the floor and allow him to attack off the dribble or create space for a 15-foot jumper. The sophomore is in a very nice rhythm and the Longhorns must take advantage if Atchley is out more than usual. Fresh off the football field, senior Marcus Monk has the ability to defend Johnson very well off the bounce.
Varez Ward and Dogus Balbay must also play well. Ward and Balbay have committed open court turnovers and that plays into the Razorbacks hands. Balbay has to be tight with the ball and then attack off the bounce. Ward has to be aware of the back tip, which has been an issue the last few games. Texas will very likely play a lot of three-guard line-up Tuesday should Atchley not play against an Arkansas team that plays a smaller line-up.
If the game is tight late, Fortson, Welsh and Washington are all sub-70% free throw shooters. Clarke is one of the nation's best and simply can't be fouled.