FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Mike Anderson knows exactly what Alabama’s Anthony Grant is feeling this season.
The Crimson Tide is 0-8 in games played outside of Tuscaloosa, Ala., resembling Arkansas’ well-known road woes the past few years. Alabama has been close to a breakthrough several times, but an inability to win away from home has played a big role in the Crimson Tide’s unexpected struggles this season.
And it all sounds very familiar to the Razorbacks.
“They’re just not finishing,” said Anderson, repeating a phrase he has used to describe his team numerous times this season. “You’ve got to make finishing plays whether that be on the offensive end or the defensive end. I think if you ask Coach Grant, he would say the same thing. ‘We just didn’t make the finishing plays.’”
Anderson and the Razorbacks (13-8, 2-6 in the Southeastern Conference) aren’t in the mood to help Alabama (9-12, 3-5 in SEC) enjoy a breakthrough tonight, though, when the teams meet in Bud Walton Arena. Arkansas has its own issues to work through as well as two struggling teams try to steer clear of the conference cellar.
Arkansas and Alabama are 1-4 in the past five conference games, struggling to live up to expectations. So it’s no surprised Anderson described tonight’s game as matchup between two teams who are “desperate to get a win.”
“You talk about February as a month you want to remember, so we want to gather some momentum,” Anderson said. “This is when you want put all those (wins) together. We’ve been close in some games. It’s just not getting over the hump.”
Arkansas fell well short of the mark in its last game at LSU.
The short-handed Razorbacks, who played without suspended guard Michael Qualls and forward Alandise Harris, fell into an early hole against the Tigers and could never climb out. Arkansas trailed by as much as 20, trimmed the lead to six late in the second half, but couldn’t make the plays down the stretch to get any closer.
It resulted in Arkansas’ fourth road loss this season. It also continued to damage the Razorbacks’ preseason aspirations of reaching the NCAA Tournament. But Anderson still saw some promise in Arkansas’ grit to battle back from the early deficit.
“As I watched tape I saw a lot more fight with our guys on the defensive side of the ball as well as the offensive side of the ball,” Anderson said. “We didn’t shoot it great but we had some great shot attempts and we’ll build on that.”
Alabama, meanwhile, is trying to rebound from its worst week of the season.
The Crimson Tide suffered double-digit losses to Auburn and Tennessee, failing to reach the 60-point mark in either game. The loss at in-state rival Auburn was especially frustrating, considering the Tigers were 0-6 in the conference.
“I think that any time you lose, that’s always a tough thing to deal with,” Grant said about the toll the mounting losses can take on players. “But I think kids are resilient. For me, it’s more about making sure that we’re mentally and physically in a good place and understanding that you can’t control what happened yesterday. The only thing you can control is how you move forward from today. That’s going to be the focus for us, trying to prepare the best we can to go and get a win.”
Alabama does carry a four-game win streak against Arkansas into Bud Walton Arena, where the Razorbacks are 45-6 under Anderson.
Grant owns one of those wins. Alabama beat Arkansas 79-68 in Fayetteville during the 2011-12 season. Florida (2), Syracuse, Missouri and Ole Miss are the only other teams who have knocked off Anderson’s Razorbacks in Bud Walton Arena.
Arkansas is 2-2 in conference home games so far this season. So Anderson said trying to reclaim success at home is one of the Razorbacks’ goals tonight.
“We want to certainly make sure we take care of the home court here at Bud Walton Arena,” Anderson said. “We let one slip away with Missouri, last game here, so we want to make sure we continue the trend of playing good basketball here.”
Arkansas will have its full compliment of players available after Qualls and Harris were reinstated Monday. The two didn’t travel with the Razorbacks to LSU for the 88-74 loss last Saturday, but were cleared to return after meeting with Anderson.
So Anderson said it means the Razorbacks “have our full team back.”
Now, he’s hoping Arkansas can respond by putting together one of its most complete performances of the season against the Crimson Tide.
“It’s a big game for both of us,” Anderson said. “One of the things we want to do is make sure we take care of the home court and we can play start to finish.”