FAYETTEVILLE – Even with the frigid winter weather, Arkansas coach Mike Anderson forecasts a hot ticket for his 23rd-ranked Razorbacks coming home today for the first time in their SEC season.
“I am looking forward to Bud Walton Arena being packed,” Anderson said. “It’s cold outside, but in Bud Walton Arena we turn the heat up. And, we hope to turn it up with our basketball team.”
Now 12-2 overall and 1-0 in the SEC, rallying from down 13 during the first half and down 10 during the second half to win, 79-75, in their SEC opener over the Georgia Bulldogs last Tuesday in Athens, Ga., the Razorbacks host the Vanderbilt Commodores (11-3, 1-0).
Tip-off is at 3:30 p.m. at Walton Arena and televised by the SEC Network.
Coming back over Georgia in Athens does seem to have Arkansas hot for its Razorbacks again, but his Hogs didn’t handle pats on the back very well, Anderson acknowledged, when December road losses at Iowa State and Clemson followed their 6-0 start that briefly got them ranked for the first time in Anderson’s three-plus Arkansas seasons.
“Let’s hope the leadership guys that have been here through last year and this year get that point over to this team,” Anderson said. You know, it’s a race, it’s not a sprint. That was one game. There’s a lot out there for us.”
Sophomore guard Manuale Watkins, one of the off-the-bench stars against Georgia, said nobody still has Georgia on their mind.
“Georgia game is over,” Watkins said. “That was cool, but five minutes after the game and as soon as I got on the plane, my mind was set on the next game. Vanderbilt is always a good team. We were fortunate enough to go in there last year and get a win so I know they’ll be angry and want to come into our place and get a win.”
Vanderbilt indeed is a good team. Though starting three freshmen, coach Kevin Stallings’ young Commodores beat Purdue, La Salle and St. Louis, among others, mixed with close losses to Rutgers, Baylor and Georgia Tech, and opened the SEC season last Tuesday at their Memorial Gym in Nashville, Tenn., defeating Auburn, 64-52.
Vandy beat Auburn with Vandy’s star player — 6-11 sophomore center Damian Jones averaging 16.2 points and 7.1 rebounds — not even as the star. Jones certainly played well with 11 points and eight rebounds, but it was senior forward James Siakam (14 points and 10 rebounds) and freshman guard Riley LaChance (13 points) leading the way, while 7-0 sophomore Luke Kornet grabbed 10 rebounds off the bench.
Vandy outrebounded Auburn, 47-27, and rebounding is a Commodores’ forte.
Because of a torrid shooting second half and playing superb defense, Arkansas compensated for getting outrebounded by 15 at Georgia.
The Hogs likely will need to rebound much better than that vs. Vanderbilt.
“I think whoever commands on the rebound side has a great chance to win,” Anderson said. “But we really have to defend. Vanderbilt shoots the ball well. They have a lot of guys on the perimeter that can shoot. The big kid, Jones, played well against us last year. He’s good around the basket and he can step out and make shots.”
Jones vs. Bobby Portis — Arkansas 6-11 sophomore star, averaging 17.1 points and 7.7 rebounds — should be a big Arkansas vs. Vandy focus.
Vandy’s true freshman starters, LaChance and fellow guards Shelby Mitchell and Jeff Roberson, “have played enough that they aren’t freshmen anymore,” Anderson said.
Roberson (4.5) averages the least scoring of Vandy’s starters but is “our best perimeter defender,” Stallings said, crediting Roberson with holding Auburn scoring guard KT Harrell to eight points.
Anderson has a freshman not playing like a freshman.
Along with sophomore reserve guard Watkins, freshman reserve guard Anton Beard of North Little Rock played the the bulk of the second half against Georgia as part of the lineup taking and preserving the lead.
“Down the stretch he (Beard) was as poised as any freshman as I have seen in awhile. I think about a guy like a Lee Mayberry,” Anderson said, recalling the great freshman point guard for Arkansas’ 1989 Southwest Conference championship team when Anderson assisted Nolan Richardson. “Really poised. I put him (Beard) in with 14:33 to go in the game and I didn’t take him out. I didn’t take Manuale Watkins out. It shows how key those guys were.”