FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas assistant T.J. Cleveland was a member of the last Razorbacks team to win at South Carolina.
It was during the 2000-01 season. The Gamecocks weren’t even in the Colonial Life Arena, their current basketball facility. Needing a win for momentum and their NCAA Tournament hopes, the Razorbacks used a late run — capped by former Hog Joe Johnson’s game-winning three-pointer — to wrap up a 69-67 victory.
The stakes aren’t exactly the same as Arkansas travels back to South Carolina to play for the sixth time since the game 12 years ago. But Cleveland believes the current Razorbacks should take a page out of Arkansas’ road success in 2001.
“We never got rattled and I think that’s something this team has to figure out,” Cleveland said. “You may be down seven or eight points, but as long as there’s substantial time on the clock, you can get back in the game.
“If we can take that mindset on the road, we’ll be fine.”
Arkansas (12-6, 3-2 in Southeastern Conference) will try to end its five-game losing streak at South Carolina (11-7, 1-4 in SEC), while grabbing a much-needed road win when it plays the Gamecocks today at 12:30 p.m. The Razorbacks enter the South Carolina game coming off an impressive 96-70 home win against Mississippi State and are looking to carry the momentum from the victory to the road.
It has been a failed recipe so far. The Razorbacks are 0-5 outside the state of Arkansas, including 0-2 in SEC games. So coach Mike Anderson, who was an assistant on Nolan Richardson’s staff in 2000-01, said it’s time for a breakthrough.
“One thing about it is you want to build momentum,” Anderson said. “This time of year, you really want to start playing some good basketball. I think in a lot of areas we’re doing some good things. Now, let’s see if we can take that on the road and have a good showing from the start to the middle to the finish of the game.”
Anderson believes his team’s performance at Ole Miss last Saturday is proof the Hogs are closing in on a happy road trip. The Razorbacks pushed the Rebels, who are now 5-0 in conference play, before a late collapse ended their upset hopes.
So Arkansas players were disappointed with the end result. But they also spent the week brimming with optimism that they are, indeed, closing in on wins.
“I feel every game we’re getting a little bit more experience,” Arkansas guard Fred Gulley said. “We’re learning the feel of each other, and we’re getting comfortable playing our style of play. Looking ahead to our next game, we’re looking forward to taking what we did (Wednesday) and playing it on the road.”
Anderson said the Razorbacks must play with plenty of toughness, effort and energy to win today. While the Gamecocks haven’t impressed under Frank Martin, Anderson said they have started to adopt their new coach’s personality.
“His teams are going to play hard,” said Anderson, who is 4-4 against Martin when they squared off at Missouri and Kansas State. “They’re going to challenge you, they’re going to challenge your manhood. They’re going to test you. They’re going to do a lot of pushing and shoving and it’s going to be a physical ballgame, so our guys better get ready to really go to war, so to speak.”
Arkansas has been pushed around plenty on the road before. It happened in the SEC opener, when Texas A&M dominated the boards en route to an easy win.
But Anderson believes his team learned from that experience and has done a better job of fighting back since. It was evident at Ole Miss, when one of the SEC’s best rebounding teams held a slim advantage on the boards (46-42).
Still, it wasn’t enough for Arkansas to celebrate a road win. But Anderson, Cleveland and the rest of the Razorbacks understand that needs to change at South Carolina.
“We need it,” Cleveland said. “We’re knocking on the door and I think we’re about to turn that corner. A few plays here and there and we’d have a win on the road.
“We have to take the same mindset we play with (at home) and just continue to fight and make some shots.”
Arkansas (12-6) at South Carolina (11-7)
• When: 12:30 p.m. today
• Where: Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, S.C.
• TV/Radio: SEC Network (KATV-7)/KABZ-FM 103.7
• SEC records: Arkansas 3-2, South Carolina 1-4
• Series: Arkansas leads 14-10; last meeting Arkansas 76, South Carolina 65 on Feb. 11, 2012