FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Mike Anderson has pegged depth as one of his team’s biggest strengths throughout the 2012-13 season.
His beliefs will likely be put to the test over the next week.
Arkansas (12-7, 3-3 in SEC) is getting ready for one of its most difficult stretches of the season when it tips off a run of three games in six days at Alabama (12-7, 4-2) on Thursday night. The Razorbacks will then play home games against Tennessee (10-8, 2-4 in SEC) and No. 4 Florida at home on Saturday and Tuesday, respectively.
The tight schedule is credited to the SEC’s television package with ESPN, which televises conference games four days a week as part of its college basketball coverage. All three of Arkansas’ games during the stretch will be televised by either ESPN or ESPN2. While the exposure for the program can be valuable, Anderson said it doesn’t eliminate the difficulty of actually preparing and playing through it.
“I think this time of year you’re going to be playing games,” Anderson said during Monday’s SEC Teleconference. “That’s part of it. And I think our guys will look forward to it. They look forward to playing games as opposed to practicing anyway.
“But, certainly, it’s going to be a challenge. … You’ve got to play big in every game.”
Arkansas needs big performances, too, after suffering through their worst loss of the season at South Carolina last Saturday. The Razorbacks sit in the middle-of-the-pack in the SEC as the first month of conference play comes to a close.
The Razorbacks have had extra time this week to prepare for Alabama. Arkansas practiced Sunday, took Monday off and was on the court against Tuesday. The Razorbacks will have one more practice Wednesday before heading to Alabama.
But there won’t be much time for preparation and relaxation before the next two games. Arkansas will return from its trip to Alabama well after midnight Friday morning, leaving roughly 36 hours before the Tennessee tipoff at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Arkansas then will have two days to prepare for Florida, which was tied with Ole Miss for the lead in the SEC’s standings through six games.
“Our practices won’t necessarily be scaled down,” Anderson said. “They will be intense, but they probably will be shorter, and really try to be sure we have energy for the game. But we want to make sure we come out and work on the things we need to work on as we prepare for each different team.”
Arkansas isn’t the first program deal with the quick turnaround this season.
Kentucky and Vanderbilt kicked off SEC play with Thursday-Saturday-Tuesday games. The Wildcats went 2-1 during the stretch, which included a home loss to Texas A&M. The Commodores were 0-3, including the 56-33 loss at Arkansas.
Ole Miss also completed the same stretch against Kentucky on Tuesday night.
“It’s a challenge to bounce back on that Saturday so quickly,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said about his team’s experience during Monday’s SEC Teleconference. “Normally, Sunday might be a day off, because you’re getting ready for a Wednesday game, and you don’t have that day to sort of regroup, either.
“It’s a challenge physically, it’s a challenge mentally. The biggest challenge is because usually you’re playing really good teams.”
So Anderson said the Razorbacks must count on their depth as they take aim at the difficult stretch. Players were not available for comment before Tuesday’s practice, but Anderson said better production across the board would be one key this week.
Arkansas’ reserves produced just nine points in the South Carolina loss.
“Our bench has to really, really got to come to play,” Anderson said. “Our young guys, they’ve been thrown into the fire at times, and they will be really thrown into it because this time of the year, right now, I think energy, the intensity you’ve got to play with is very, very important. We can see when you don’t play with that energy you can get throttled on the road, which is what took place at South Carolina.”
Arkansas’ goal is to make sure the loss doesn’t turn into more woes as it prepares to play Alabama, Tennessee and Florida over a six-day stretch.
“Obviously, that is going to be a challenge,” Anderson said. “But it is an exciting challenge for our guys to play against some of the teams in the upper echelon of the SEC right now.”
Arkansas (12-7) at Alabama (12-7)
• When: 8 p.m. Thursday
• Where: Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
• TV/Radio: ESPN2/KABZ-FM 103.7
• SEC records: Arkansas 3-3, Alabama 4-2
• Series: Arkansas leads 28-26; last meeting Alabama 79, Arkansas 68 on Feb. 23