Arkansas looks to stay perfect at home in SEC play
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP)
Time and again this season, Mike Anderson has asked his Arkansas players to rebound from their disappointing performances away from home.
Every time, at least in Southeastern Conference play, the Razorbacks have answered their coach's call. Arkansas is perfect at Bud Walton Arena.
Anderson hopes Arkansas (18-12, 9-8 SEC) can rebound one final time Saturday when it hosts Texas A&M in the regular-season finale for both teams. The Razorbacks are coming off a crushing 93-63 loss at Missouri that dropped them to 1-11 away from home this season, including 1-8 in the SEC.
For all the road issues, which will likely end up costing Arkansas its first NCAA tournament berth since 2008, the school has excelled against some of the country's best at home - including a win over then-No. 2 Florida on Feb. 5. The Razorbacks are 17-1 at home overall, 33-4 over the last two seasons, with their only loss this season coming to then-No. 6 Syracuse on Nov. 30.
A win Saturday against the Aggies (17-13, 7-10) would give Arkansas its first unbeaten home record in conference play since the 1997-98 season, back when Anderson was an assistant to former coach Nolan Richardson. It would also secure the school's first winning record in conference play since 2007-08.
While the Missouri loss likely ended any hopes of the Razorbacks reaching the NCAA tournament, Anderson is focused on the positive steps as his second season comes to a close.
''You've got to create that environment that you take care of home,'' Anderson said. ''You think about the formula that you talk about having a chance to win a conference championship; you take care of home and you split on the road. Of course, we didn't do that, but you want to make sure you take care of your home, and we've done well in that department.''
In order to close out the perfect run at home, Arkansas must find a way to overcome a Texas A&M team that ran away with a 69-51 win in the first meeting Jan. 9.
Texas A&M has fallen on hard times since beating the Razorbacks and Kentucky to begin SEC play. The Aggies lost four in a row after those opening wins, and they've lost three of the last four heading into Saturday - including a 68-57 home loss to LSU on Wednesday.
Guard Elston Turner, who had 15 points and eight rebounds in the earlier win over Arkansas, injured his left wrist and pinkie finger in the loss to the Tigers, but A&M coach Billy Kennedy expects the senior to play against the Razorbacks.
Kennedy knows the Aggies will need Turner's best to have a chance.
''Arkansas is a different team at home,'' Kennedy said. ''I think they are perfect in league play, and they are 20 points better at home for whatever reason. ... In that hostile environment, hopefully, we should be ready for it this time of the year. But it will be a challenge, and if we don't compete better than we did (against LSU), it will be a tough night.''
Arkansas is currently seventh in the SEC, though its seeding at next week's conference tournament could change greatly based on Saturday's results.
Anderson, for one, isn't looking that far ahead quite yet.
If anything, he's still looking back at the loss to his former school, Missouri.
''We want to get that bad taste out of our mouths,'' Anderson said.
AP Sports Writer Kristie Rieken in College Station, Texas, contributed to this report.