The Arkansas men's basketball team (5-0) is set to host the Central Arkansas Bears (0-3) this Saturday in Fayetteville. The contest will be the first meeting between the two teams since the 1946-47 season, a game the Hogs won 59-39 in Fayetteville.
Arkansas leads the Bears 6-0 in the all-time series. It will be the first game the Hogs have played against an in-state opponent since beating Arkansas State 67-64 in overtime of the 1987 National Invitation Tournament. The Razorbacks have not played an in-state opponent during the regular season since defeating Arkansas Tech 50-45 on Nov. 11, 1950.
“I hope our players are excited. I’m sure UCA is,” Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman said in a press conference Thursday. “I think it’s, when you talk about the state, I think there will be great interest in the game. Maybe I’m wrong, but...I think it’s a pretty good educated guess that there’ll be excitement because it’s an in-state game.”
The Hogs most recently defeated the Southern Jaguars on Wednesday evening, 79-44. The game was scheduled in place of the cancelled game against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane that was scheduled for Tuesday.
UCA had its first four games of the season cancelled, but have managed to get three games in against quality opponents. The Bears have losses to the Memphis Tigers, Little Rock Trojans and most recently the Saint Louis Billikens.
“They’re a good rebounding team too,” Musselman said. “I mean they’re plus 3 on the glass, and they’ve played against UALR, Memphis and Saint Louis, so rebounding is gonna be important. Transition defense is going to be paramount...54% of their shots come within the first 12 seconds after a made basket. Usually teams run after a miss, they’re running after made baskets.”
The Bears are led by former BYU Cougar Rylan Bergersen, who averages 17.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. The graduate transfer guard scored 22 points and was 4-5 from three in UCA’s Dec. 4 matchup against Memphis.
Musselman keyed in on the Bears’ senior point guard DeAndre Jones who is second in the Southland Conference with 4.3 assists per game. Jones scores 13.7 points per game, shoots 57.1% from 3-point range and 100% from the free throw line for UCA.
Arkansas is led by freshman guard Moses Moody, who averages a team-high 16.2 points per game. Graduate transfer forward Justin Smith is a high flier and scores 12.8 points per game.
Redshirt sophomore center Connor Vanover is fourth in the SEC with 8.8 rebounds per game. Vanover averages 10 points per game and leads the conference with 3.6 blocks per game.
The Razorbacks have yet to establish a consistent 7-to-8 man rotation, but are experiencing production from nearly everyone who plays. The Hogs have 10 players averaging at least 14 minutes per game and they lead the SEC in points per game with 89.6.
Though the matchup between the Hogs and the Bears is lopsided, it breaks a barrier that has been set for 70 years. The in-state matchup opens a door to more opportunities within the state of Arkansas. Musselman spoke of the significance of the matchup.
“I understand the importance and the excitement of a game like this,” Musselman said. “It's good for UCA, too. It's easier travel on them. It's good for their brand. It's good for our brand. I don't see any negatives at all. I think it's a really positive thing for the fans and both programs.”
The Razorbacks and the Bears will tip off at 7 p.m. inside Bud Walton Arena on Saturday. The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network+.