FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Mike Anderson only had to look at one statistic to know what the Razorbacks were facing against their next opponent.
Georgia outrebounded Ole Miss by 15 in an overtime loss in Oxford, Miss., last Saturday. It was an impressive performance, especially against an Ole Miss team that has been dominant on the boards most of the season.
“That caught my eye,” Anderson said. “We’ll have our work cut out for us.”
Arkansas (16-9, 7-5 in Southeastern Conference) carries a two-game win streak into tonight’s game against the Bulldogs (12-13, 6-6 in SEC) in Bud Walton Arena. The Razorbacks understand their ability to battle with a strong and physical Georgia lineup will be key in making sure the streak is extended to three victories.
It’s no secret rebounding isn’t one of Arkansas’ strong suits. The undersized Razorbacks are 13th in the SEC in rebounding margin during league games (minus-7.4 a game). The margin is wider in five conference losses (minus-11.6 a game).
So Anderson – who did watch the Razorbacks beat Missouri despite being outrebounded 47-31 last Saturday — must be able to match Georgia’s toughness. The Bulldogs are outrebounding SEC opponents by 2.2 boards a game.
“I think it’s a concern, especially with Georgia,” Anderson said. “They’re a team that will shoot it and go get it. Their guards rebound the basketball.”
The formula has worked for Georgia, which started 1-4 in SEC play before stringing together a five-game win streak. Coach Mark Fox said his team has thrived on defensive and rebounding, moving into the top half of the SEC’s standings.
It includes three road wins in conference play, which is no easy feat. But Fox said Georgia’s formula for stringing together multiple road wins is evident.
“I think our defense has been pretty consistent all year and that has been a great stabilizer for us,” said Fox, whose team ranks fourth in the SEC in scoring defense (61.3 points a game). “One of the keys to winning away from home is trying to slow that home team down. I would say our defense has been probably the one thing that has given us a chance to win away from home.”
Consistent performances from the SEC’s second-leading scorer have helped as well.
Guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been a matchup problem for smaller guards because of his 6-foot-5, 205-pound frame. Caldwell-Pope has led Georgia in scoring in 22 of the team’s 25 games this season and is averaging 17.7 points a game. He’s also the team’s top rebounder and ranks 11th in the SEC (6.6 rebounds a game).
So Arkansas guard Mardracus Wade said battling Georgia on the boards begins with Caldwell-Pope, who is capable of piling up second-chance points. The Hogs know firsthand after he scored 18 points in a win in Athens, Ga., last season.
“He knows how to play and we know what he’s going to do, try to score the ball and get his teammates going,” Wade said. “So we have got to be prepared for that and do what we do best. Pressure and get up and down and execute and finish.”
Success could mean another important victory for the Razorbacks, who have won four of their past five games. It would be Arkansas’ third straight conference win, which is something it hasn’t accomplished since the 2009-10 season.
Anderson wasn’t aware of the drought when asked about it Tuesday. But he hopes it ends and said rebounding will be one of the keys to accomplishing it tonight.
“The charge now is with our guard play and our forward play, they’ve got to do a better job on the boards in terms of hitting people and just being real physical,” Anderson said. “Because I think this is going to be a physical game.”
Georgia (12-13, 6-6 in SEC) at Arkansas (16-9, 7-5 in SEC)
• When: 6 p.m. Thursday
• Where: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville
• TV/Radio: ESPN2/KABZ-FM 103.7
• Series: Arkansas leads 16-13; last meeting Georgia 81, Arkansas 59 on Feb. 8, 2012