By ROBBIE NEISWANGER
Arkansas News Bureau
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas is inching closer to its first road trip of the season. One that will send the Razorbacks to Connecticut to play the Huskies, the 2010-11 national champions.
But Arkansas coach Mike Anderson hopes his team remembers something important. There’s another game to play before the Razorbacks head to the north.
Arkansas (4-1) is back on the court to play Mississippi Valley State (1-5) in Bud Walton Arena tonight at 7. The Razorbacks, who beat Grambling State 86-44 last Saturday, need to add another win against a Southwestern Athletic Conference team before taking on their biggest nonconference test.
"That’s going to be our job to keep our guys focused on the task at hand," Anderson said about the possibility his team could be caught looking ahead. "As we continue to play, the games are going to get tougher. This will be a tougher game. I think Mississippi Valley gets our attention."
It’s the second straight game against a SWAC team, but Anderson believes Mississippi Valley State will present a different kind of challenge tonight.
The Delta Devils — who are coached by former Kentucky basketball player Sean Woods — are a veteran group starting four seniors and a junior.
Mississippi Valley State has only one win, but four of its losses came against major conference opponents North Carolina (101-75), Notre Dame (80-67), DePaul (80-70) and South Carolina (61-57). The Delta Devils nearly pulled off an upset against the Gamecocks, too, but blew an 11-point lead in the final six minutes of their loss on Nov. 22.
So Anderson said Arkansas, which has beaten Mississippi Valley State in each of the past two seasons, must be wary of its opponent.
"We are going to have our hands full against a veteran team," Anderson said. "They’re coming to a place they are familiar with. They won’t be afraid."
Arkansas believes it is gaining steam, though, after the initial blow suffered when Marshawn Powell went down with a season-ending knee injury. The Razorbacks struggled against Utah Valley, but were sharper against Grambling State in forcing 27 turnovers and dishing out 25 assists in the big win.
Arkansas’ four-man freshmen class led the way, scoring 53 of the 86 points. BJ Young led the way once again with a team-high 18 points, while Hunter Mickelson (10), Rashad Madden (15) and Devonta Abron (10) all reached double figures.
"We’ve all just been working hard at practice and we’re finally bringing our practice to the game," said Abron, who earned his second straight start.
Anderson said consistency from the group — as well as the rest of the team — is important. But he also believes the freshmen are starting to settle in.
"I am sure they are feeling good about themselves," Anderson said. "Our young players had the chance to play extensively and they did a lot of good things and I thought they brought some energy and brought some excitement. You saw some of the athletic ability. You saw some of the talent they possess."
The group helped Arkansas turn in its best effort since Powell went down with the injury. Anderson said the tempo "went to another level," especially, when Mickelson, Young and Madden came off the bench in the first half and made plays against Grambling.
So he believes it was a confidence-building win, one the Razorbacks can benefit from as they move into tougher tests. Connecticut is one of them. But Anderson said his team better be ready tonight, too.
"When you talk about the confidence of our guys, it can’t help but build some confidence as we get ready to go into this part of the schedule," Anderson said of the Grambling State win. "We’ve got a game (tonight), and that’s the most important game on our schedule right now."