Arkansas looks to bolster NCAA case with road win
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP)
Mike Anderson isn't ready to talk about the NCAA tournament just yet.
The Arkansas coach is so caught up in the moment in his first season on the job that he hasn't allowed himself - or his players, for that matter - to look that far ahead.
The Razorbacks (16-6, 4-3 Southeastern Conference) haven't reached the tournament in four years, one of the primary reasons coach John Pelphrey was fired and Anderson was hired away from Missouri after last season.
Following a win over No. 25 Vanderbilt on Tuesday, it appears as though Arkansas is at least entering the discussion for a possible tournament berth. It's a case the Razorbacks could bolster if they can earn their first road win of the season at LSU (12-9, 2-5) on Saturday.
''They'll be ready,'' Anderson said. ''And that's my job, is to help get them ready.''
Expectations weren't particularly high for Arkansas entering this season, despite Anderson's track record of success at Alabama-Birmingham and with the Tigers. The Razorbacks were picked to finish sixth in the SEC, with junior forward Marshawn Powell expected to lead a team that featured four freshmen.
Powell sustained a season-ending knee injury after the second game, leaving the team without its leading scorer and with only nine scholarship players.
Since then, Arkansas has found a way to flourish, improving to 16-0 in Bud Walton Arena with its 82-74 win over the Commodores. It was the Razorbacks' third victory over a ranked opponent this season, including wins over then-No. 15 Mississippi State and then-No. 20 Michigan.
However the season has been labeled so far, Anderson is just busy enjoying the ride.
''I think there's some more out there for these guys,'' he said. ''As long as they continue to work hard and believe and trust in one another, then there's some things out there for them. They're going to be in the hunt for something.''
The Vanderbilt win was enough to prompt the first questions about that possible something - an NCAA tournament berth. Arkansas point guard Julysses Nobles, though, didn't bite after the game.
''We want to get there, but we just are trying to win every game,'' Nobles said. ''That's our goal; take it game by game.''
None of the current Razorbacks was around when the team last made the tournament in 2008. That team won a first-round game over Indiana before losing to top-seeded North Carolina in Pelphrey's first season.
''You look at this team, (and) no one's experienced it, so how can they talk about it?'' Anderson asked. ''They've never experienced it.''
The Razorbacks held off LSU for a 69-60 win at home on Jan. 14. That victory followed the full-court pressing script that Arkansas has shown so far this season under Anderson. The Razorbacks, who lead the SEC by forcing 17.4 turnovers per game, forced 10 by the Tigers in the first half.
Anderson expects a completely different style of game on Saturday, particularly since LSU forward Johnny O'Bryant is back after missing five games with a broken hand. O'Bryant missed the Arkansas loss, but he had 12 points and nine rebounds in a loss to Kentucky last week.
More than anything, Anderson knows for the Razorbacks to be seriously considered for a tournament berth, they must show they can win away from home.
''We have done a fairly good job of defending the home court,'' Anderson said. ''So, I think for us to talk about taking it to the next level we have to be sure we can go out away from here and play good basketball.''