After falling to 0-2 in Southeastern Conference play for the first time since the 2009 season, Mike Anderson and the Razorbacks are looking to avoid falling to 0-3 in league play Tuesday night against No. 14 Kentucky.
The loss to No. 10 Florida in Bud Walton Arena Saturday was the first home loss for Anderson’s club since Syracuse defeated the Razorbacks 91-82 behind 35 points from Orange guard James Southerland in November of 2012.
Anderson says his team failed to execute down the stretch, blowing a seven-point lead with under five minutes to play in regulation, and let the fans in attendance down vs. Florida, pointing to the small things teams must do to close out great teams such as Florida.
“One of the things we've talked about this entire year is embracing the small things because the small things turn into big things,” Anderson said. “And what I mean by that is loose balls, deflections, and just playing with energy, talking on the floor. Because some of those small things take place in the game.”
Down the stretch of the Florida game, Arkansas shot itself in the foot with missed shots, free throws and careless turnovers, but the effort put forth should not be in question, Anderson insists.
And now, with their backs against the wall, the Razorbacks must bounce back and key in on the small things against a mega-talented and hungry Kentucky Wildcat team featuring seven McDonald’s All-Americans and a pair leftovers from a disappointing 2012-2013 campaign.
“It's probably one of the better teams assembled,” Anderson said of Kentucky’s collection of talent. “You look at guys who were best in the country (out of high school), and (Calipari) did a great job of getting those players in there.”
The leader of the pack for the Wildcats is six-foot-nine-inch, 250-pound freshman, Julius Randle, who leads the SEC in rebounding, and averages a double double at nearly 17 points and 11 rebounds per contest.
“Randle is a skilled guy,” Anderson said. “A lot of people look at his power, but I think he's putting his power with his skill as well. And he has the mindset that he wants to be great, and thinks he's one of the best players in the country.”
Sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein is the defensive stopper for the Wildcats, swatting away nearly four shots per contest, doubling last season’s output thus far. Six-foot-six-inch freshman guard James Young is another weapon for Calipari’s attack, pouring in a solid 14 points per ball game.
On top of hosting back-to-back ranked opponents in Bud Walton Arena for the first time since 2010, Arkansas must find some sense of confidence and rhythm if it has any chance to knock off the Wildcats.
“I think we've got to get the tempo more to our liking, then you'll really see the rhythm with our basketball team,” Anderson said. “I think we're taking good shots. We've just got to make them is all.”
And even with Arkansas staring at an 0-5 start to conference play with a pair of road games coming up, Anderson still likes his team and believes they can right the ship.
“I feel good about our basketball team,” Anderson said. “As long as we learn from (the 0-2 start), we're in the hunt for something. We’ll be in the hunt for something.”
“The games continue to get bigger, but at the same time it's a great opportunity for our guys. And you wonder where our guys are from a mental standpoint, and I think our guys will be ready to play. I really, really do,” he continued.