FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas basketball coach Mike Anderson understands how his players must be feeling after the unusual schedule the past few weeks.
They’re basketball players who fell into a college football routine through the holidays. Arkansas played Alabama A&M on a Saturday, then spent a week preparing for the next game. It played Northwestern State the next Saturday, then returned to the practice grind to get ready for the next test.
“It gets monotonous,” Anderson said Thursday. “It’s time to play somebody.”
Arkansas (8-4), after playing just four games since Dec. 20, will be back on the court to play Delaware State (6-8) in Bud Walton Arena at 7 tonight. The nonconference game has added significance, too. It’s Arkansas’ last tune-up before the 18-game Southeastern Conference schedule begins at Texas A&M next week.
Anderson said the practices have tested the patience of his players, who have been itching to play the past few weeks. But he believes the down time has been beneficial because of the amount of practice opportunities it created.
He hopes it pays off as Arkansas tries to extend its win streak to five games tonight.
“They watch TV,” Anderson said of his team. “They see the conference games are starting. I think the thing about it, the sense of urgency, it starts kicking in automatically from a player’s standpoint and a coach’s standpoint.”
Arkansas spent last week placing an emphasis on eliminating the careless fouls that plagued the Razorbacks during the 79-61 win against Northwestern State. The constant whistles put Hogs like Marshawn Powell in foul trouble, while slowing the tempo of the game as the Demons shot 42 free throws in the loss.
But it’s not the only thing Arkansas has worked on. With classes out, the Razorbacks have held multiple two-a-day practices. So every facet has been covered.
“It has been kind of tough, but it has also been helping us out to get more practice in,” Arkansas guard Mardracus Wade said. “Guys get more repetitions, getting up more shots, watching more film, getting better. I am excited about that.
“Guys are starting to value this time and we are just trying to fine-tune things because once we get into the SEC, things will get rolling so we won’t have too much time to try and learn new things.”
It’s true. Arkansas’ week-long stretch between games will end with Delaware State tonight. The SEC is moving into its first year of an 18-game schedule, leaving the Razorbacks with two games a week over the course of the conference season.
Arkansas’ longest stretch between games during SEC play will be four days.
But forward Hunter Mickelson said the Razorbacks are ready for the grind.
“We’re looking forward to it. Definitely. A lot,” Mickelson said. “We’ve been practicing so long because our games have been so spaced out. It’s going to be awesome to be out there. After awhile, you’re itching for the games to start back.”
But Mickelson said he and the Razorbacks won’t get caught looking ahead to conference play tonight. Delaware State has plenty of big-game experience with losses at Northwestern, Penn State, Pittsburgh and Maryland this season.
The Hornets also are coming off an impressive 53-51 win at Marshall as well. Delaware State won even though four players — including leading scorer Tahj Tate and 6-foot-10 center Kendall Gray — were benched for disciplinary reasons.
“I’ve been watching film on those guys and they are pretty good,” Wade said. “They have a guy that can really score the ball. I think we have to put one of our best defenders on him and try to slow him down.”
Arkansas is eager for the challenge after spending much of the past three weeks on the practice court.
Anderson’s team hasn’t had many opportunities to play during that stretch because of its football-like schedule, but the Hogs understand it will change starting tonight.
“You’ve got games coming at you now,” Anderson said of the post-holidays schedule. “The open weeks that we used to have, you don’t have as many of those. Now you get more into the regular routine and you’re playing teams that are going to be really, really familiar with you and hopefully you’ll be familiar with them.”
Delaware State (6-8) at Arkansas (8-4)
• When: 7 p.m. today
• Where: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville
• TV/Radio: KATV-7/KABZ-FM 103.7
• Series: Arkansas leads 4-0; last meeting Arkansas 71, Delaware State 53, on Dec. 7, 2009