FAYETTEVILLE — Road woes have knocked Arkansas out of contention for an at-large berth in the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
It’s a frustrating fact. One that became crystal clear after the 30-point loss at Missouri on Tuesday night. But Arkansas coach Mike Anderson didn’t want the disappointment to cloud his team’s preparation for its final home game.
That’s because Arkansas, despite its road struggles, can still accomplish something significant at home when it plays Texas A&M in Bud Walton Arena at 1 p.m.
The Razorbacks — who are 16-1 in the building — will try to cap their first undefeated season at home in conference play since 1998 against the Aggies this afternoon. Arkansas also can secure its 17th home win in the building this season, which would equal the school record set by last year’s team. In addition, the Razorbacks can reach the 19-win mark for the first time since 2008.
So Anderson believes there’s plenty to play for in Arkansas’ last opportunity to gain momentum before heading to Nashville, Tenn.
“It’s a game where we want to continue to take care of the home court and play well,” Anderson said. “Come out with energy. This time of year, it’s about the energy you come out with, and the mindset you’ve got to come out with, and hopefully you can play some good basketball as we finish one season and get ready for another.”
Arkansas has been nearly unbeatable at home this season, piling up 13 straight wins after the early-season loss to Syracuse. The streak includes strong resume marks against Oklahoma, Florida, Missouri and Kentucky. While there have been close calls — like the late wins against Missouri and Georgia late last month —Anderson has been successful in making Bud Walton Arena a difficult venue for opponents.
“That’s part of the process we’ve talked about,” Anderson said. “You’ve got to create that environment that you take care of home. You think about the formula that you talk about having a chance to win a conference championship, you take care of home and you split on the road. Of course, we didn’t do that, but you want to make sure you take care of your home, and we’ve done well in that department.”
The Hogs are 34-4 in the arena during Anderson’s two-years with the program.
“We love our home,” Arkansas guard Kikko Haydar said. “We love Bud Walton Arena and all our fans. We hope to finish it off the right way and get a win.”
Arkansas and Texas A&M will meet for the second time this season. The first game wasn’t memorable for the Razorbacks, who lost 69-51 in College Station, Texas, to open conference play on Jan. 9.
The Razorbacks struggled in the paint against a bigger Aggies lineup. It didn’t help that forward Marshawn Powell was bogged down by early foul trouble, going scoreless in 12 minutes.
“I thought our guys going into SEC play didn’t know the urgency that you’ve got to play with,” Anderson said. “There’s an urgency you’ve got to play with. They really attacked us on the glass and got to the free throw line. That’s something we can’t allow to happen.”
Texas A&M followed the Arkansas victory with an even more impressive win against Kentucky at Rupp Arena a few days later. But the Aggies have struggled since, going 5-10 in conference play. It included a home loss against LSU on Wednesday night.
Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy was disappointed in his team after the loss, saying they didn’t show up for their final home game. Anderson said he can relate.
“We had a game where everybody didn’t show up either,” Anderson said, referring to his team’s largest loss of the season at Missouri. “So I expect two teams that are going to go out and scratch and claw.”
There are SEC Tournament seeding implications on the line for both teams.
The Razorbacks know they’ll begin tournament play in Nashville, Tenn., next Thursday, but their seed and opponent remains undetermined. Arkansas can finish anywhere from No. 6 to No. 9 depending on what happens today.
Texas A&M, meanwhile, is vying for the No. 10 seed with Vanderbilt. The No. 11 seed will play Wednesday, while No. 10 opens SEC Tournament play Thursday.
Anderson said he’s not wasting any time crunching the numbers or scenarios entering the last regular season game. He just wants his team’s best effort in the home finale in Bud Walton Arena.
“I think that would be a nice achievement,” Arkansas guard BJ Young said earlier this week. “We’re going to try and get it done. We’re ready to get it done.”
Texas A&M (17-13, 7-10 in SEC) at Arkansas (18-12, 9-8 in SEC)
When: Today at 1 p.m.
Where: Bud Walton Arena
Radio: Razorback Sports Network
Satellite: Sirus 113, XM 198
Series: Arkansas leads 95-52
Last Meeting: Texas A&M 69, Arkansas 51 on 1/9/13
Coaches: Arkansas — Mike Anderson (37-25 in second season); Texas A&M — Billy Kennedy (31-31 in second season)
Projected Lineups: Arkansas — F Coty Clarke (6-7, Jr., 7.6 ppg), F Marshawn Powell (6-7, Jr. 14.7 ppg), G BJ Young (6-3, So., 15.6 ppg), G Fred Gulley (6-1, Jr., 1.6 ppg), G Mardracus Wade (6-2, Jr., 6.4 ppg); Texas A&M - F Kourtney Roberson (6-9, So., 6.7 ppg), F Ray Turner (6-9, Sr., 9.9 ppg), G Elston Turner (6-5, Sr., 17.7 ppg), G Alex Caruso (6-5, Fr., 5.2 ppg), G J’Mychal Reese (6-1, Fr., 6.6 ppg)