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October 4, 2013

Balanced approach excites Mike Anderson at Arkansas

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Mike Anderson had a recent taste of Arkansas' past when floor damage inside Bud Walton Arena forced the Razorbacks to take part in conditioning drills in their former home, Barnhill Arena.

Anderson, now in his third year as coach, hopes the touch of the past helps Arkansas rekindle previous glory this season.

The Razorbacks begin preseason practice Saturday, hoping to take their first steps toward the school's first NCAA tournament appearance since 2008. Rather than practicing in Bud Walton Arena, however, Arkansas will do so for the first two days in the school's student activity building.

Heavy overnight rain two weeks ago led to limited flooding inside the 20-year-old arena. The flooding was believed to be caused by construction near the building - leading to the sanding and repainting of the basketball court.

The repairs are expected to be completed by Monday, but in the meantime Arkansas has been forced to practice in the student activity building and Barnhill.

The Razorbacks last played in Barnhill during the preseason leading up to the 1993-94 season. That was the year Arkansas went on to win its only national championship with a team featuring Anderson as an assistant coach under then-coach Nolan Richardson.

"It brought back a lot of memories, the buzzing of the lights and the closeness in there, the proximity,'' Anderson said. "It brought back a lot of memories, kind of nostalgic a little bit.''

Anderson left Missouri to return to the Razorbacks in the spring of 2011, hoping to bring the program back to the level of national relevance it once had under Richardson.

It's been an up-and-down first two seasons for Anderson at Arkansas, with the team missing out on postseason play for the fifth straight year last season. The Razorbacks finished 19-13 overall, 10-8 in the Southeastern Conference - a mark bolstered by an 18-1 record at home.

Arkansas' only loss at home last season was a defeat to then-No. 6 Syracuse, and it went undefeated at home in SEC play for the first time since the 1997-98 season.

Anderson is ready to take that home success on the road this season, especially after finishing last season with a 1-12 record away from home.

"You've heard me talk about Year 3 being the time I think our guys really make a significant move,'' Anderson said. "I think we established last year that obviously when people come into Bud Walton Arena, it's going to be awful difficult for them to come out of here.

"Let's build on that for this year.''

If the Razorbacks are to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008, they'll have to do so without their top two leading scorers from last season. BJ Young led Arkansas with 15.2 points per game last season, and Marshawn Powell averaged 14.5, but both left for the professional ranks.

Also, center Hunter Mickelson, who led the team last season with 1.2 blocks in just 16.6 minutes per game, transferred to Kansas.

Despite the losses, Anderson is excited about the returning Razorbacks as well as a talented group of newcomers - led by highly recruited freshman Bobby Portis and Houston transfer Alandise Harris.

Portis, in particular, is expected to help pick up the scoring in the wake of Young and Powell's departure, though Anderson promises a more balanced approach than last season - when Young and Powell were the only two players to average in double figures.

"I think it's going to be by committee,'' Anderson said. "I think you're going to see a team that's more balanced.''

The 6-6 Harris, meanwhile, averaged 13.3 points and 6.4 rebounds as a sophomore at Houston two years ago before sitting out last season after transferring. The junior is expected to step right in and perform well because of his experience, though Anderson expects the same out of Portis as a freshman.

The Razorbacks open their season by hosting Southern Illinois-Edwardsville on Nov. 8. They'll do so with expectations of a return postseason play.

"Every year we get into it, we're trying to win a national championship,'' Anderson said. "That's going to always be my mindset.

"Now, what I want us to control is the things we can control, and what is that? Getting better each and every day. What is that? Let's improve upon on what we did last year.''



 

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