After starting 1-5 in SEC play, the Arkansas Razorbacks (14-6, 3-5 SEC) are on a two-game winning streak with a trip to No. 17 Baylor (15-5, 5-3 Big 12) up next. Despite the daunting task of making a trip to Waco, Texas, the Hogs are remaining confident for their matchup against the Bears.
Similar to last time Baylor and Arkansas met up on the hardwood — which resulted in an 81-72 win for Baylor in the 2021 Elite Eight — the Bears have the upper hand on paper. Baylor has won five straight, including its last game against No. 9 Kansas.
The Bears boast the nation’s No. 2 adjusted offensive efficiency rating (119.6) and they have a trio of elite guards in Keyonte George, Adam Flagler and LJ Cryer.
Given all the factors in front of them, the Razorbacks remain confident in their ability to build off of two straight wins over Ole Miss and LSU.
“I definitely think this game is big and we’re going to come out as confident as any other team that has played at Baylor,” forward Makhi Mitchell said. “We’re not going to back down. We obviously have tremendous guards of our own and bigs of our own. So we’re pretty confident going into the game.”
The confidence comes just under a week after the Hogs had lost four straight games and were searching for any kind of identity. Though spectators might have lost faith, the players and coaches understood that there are mountains and valleys within a season.
“The coaches never lost faith,” Mitchell said. “They’re always sticking with us and finding ways to win. We go back and look at film and clean up all the things we messed up. We’re just working at it every day. We never let up. That’s one thing about us. We’re never going to give up. As a team, as a collective and that’s what I like about Arkansas.”
Assistant coach Gus Argenal said the staff has taken the time to sit down with players and walk them through games, possessions and moments that they can learn from, and he’s already seen growth from that.
“I think that even the little things, and we take it for granted, but are we huddling every single time?,” Argenal said. “Like last game we had a total breakdown off of a free throw where (Trae) Hannibal had a wide open layup essentially. Luckily we ran back and were able to cut him off, but that was a lack of a huddle. Which, if that’s the last five minutes of the game, that could’ve been a layup that could’ve lost us the game. We’re constantly talking about those little things.”
Although Baylor presents an elite offense, Arkansas will enter the game ranked No. 13 in adjusted defensive efficiency (91.8). Argenal said the Hogs will have to continue to play elite defense in order to win.
“Our hands are going to be full,” Argenal said. “It’s going to be a game where you can’t just have one defender guarding this game. It’s going to have to be all of our perimeter players, and we’re going to have to have two other guys helping on pin-downs, baseline screens, pick and roll action.
“We’re going to have to be dialed in. The one thing they do is they can lull you to sleep. They have a lot of motion to get into their main action, and we can’t fall asleep off the ball.”
This matchup, which is part of the SEC/Big 12 challenge, present an NCAA Tournament type game for Arkansas in front of a raucous crowd. Though the SEC is as tough as any conference in the nation to play in, the Bears are one of the better programs in the country with head coach Scott Drew at the helm.
“This is a game that you don’t often get to play,” Argenal said. “We need to play well on the road. That’s an area that we have to improve. This is no better place to start than doing it at Baylor, which will be a crazy crowd and a great opportunity.”
Arkansas and Baylor will tipoff at 3 p.m. CT inside the Ferrell Center in Waco. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.