By ROBBIE NEISWANGER
Arkansas News Bureau
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said his frontcourt has been puzzling this season.
One night, the group produces in the paint with important points and rebounds to help the Razorbacks win games. They’ll disappear the next, struggling to do anything during losses.
The contrast was evident last week, when Marvell Waithe, Hunter Mickelson, Devonta Abron and Brandon Mitchell combined for 31 points, 17 rebounds, 5 blocked shots and 5 assists in the 76-65 win against South Carolina. It came three days after the group was practically non-existent in an embarrassing loss at Georgia.
“You look at the last game and wonder, do we have a front line?” Anderson said. “Now all of a sudden they step up and they’re capable of that.”
Anderson is hoping the frontcourt can will bury its inconsistency when the Razorbacks (17-8, 5-5 in Southeastern Conference) play at Tennessee (13-12, 5-5) tonight. It’s well known Arkansas is still searching for its first road win and the Razorbacks know the performance of its frontcourt will be key in making it happen against the Vols.
Tennessee’s front line, led by 6-foot-7 center Jeronne Maymon (12.0 points, 8.0 rebounds) and freshman Jarnell Stokes (8.3 points, 7.1 rebounds), is a physical and athletic group.
The Volunteers are ranked third in the SEC in rebounding margin and have the potential to dominate the Razorbacks inside tonight.
So Mickelson — who scored 11 points and grabbed 4 rebounds in the South Carolina win — said he and the rest of the frontcourt understands the importance of playing well against the Vols.
“We’ve all got to step up,” Mickelson said. “Hopefully we’ll copy that or do better than we did here the other day (against South Carolina).”
A similar performance would go a long way.
Anderson and his staff challenged the frontcourt after its poor play at Georgia, when the Razorbacks were dominated on the boards en route to an 81-59 loss. They weren’t the only ones to struggle in the blowout, of course, but the Razorbacks emphasized effort up front and got it.
Abron (10 points, 6 rebounds in the win) helped set the tone early against South Carolina, scratching and clawing for rebounds and buckets in the opening minutes. The solid start was critical in helping the Hogs gain some confidence even though senior starter Michael Sanchez was sitting out with a sprained shoulder.
“Devonta came out and really helped establish the physical presence out there,” Anderson said. “I thought he did a good job in that department. He was active along with Marvell. I thought Brandon gave us some big minutes. I thought Hunter came off the bench and, although he got two fouls early, you could just see when he was active and really aggressive.
“A lot of good things took place. So that’s going to be important from here on out.”
Arkansas also got big plays from the post late
The Razorbacks were clinging to a seven-point lead when they got the ball into Mickelson (11 points, 4 rebounds) for a basket that ended South Carolina’s 16-0 run. After a stop on the other end, Mitchell (8 points, 4 rebounds) added a bucket to help the Razorbacks regain a double-digit lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Arkansas guard Mardracus Wade said it was good to see after the Georgia loss. He said it’s time the maturing group — as well as the rest of the Razorbacks — perform well on the road tonight.
“We’ve got to establish an inside game if we want to win on the road,” Wade said. “All the other good teams that win on the road have a really good inside game. I think they understand, but at the same time it’s also about the experience and learning and getting familiar with it. As time goes on they will. And there’s going to be hell to pay once we get going.”
Arkansas’ loss at Georgia dropped the Hogs to 0-8 in games played outside Bud Walton Arena.
Tennessee picked up a road win at Florida last Saturday, leaving the Razorbacks as the only conference team without a road win this season.
The Hogs know that must change if there’s any hope of reaching the NCAA Tournament. Arkansas is confident it can happen at Tennessee tonight, but Anderson said one thing is critical.
“We’ve got to answer the call with our front line,” Anderson said.
What: Arkansas (17-8, 5-5 in SEC) at Tennessee (13-12, 5-5 in SEC)
Where: Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn.
When: 7 p.m.
TV: SEC Network
Radio: Razorback Sports Network
Satellite: Sirius (219), XM (200)
Series: Tennessee leads 16-13
Last Meeting: Tennessee 74, Arkansas 68 on 3/10/11
Coaches: Arkansas — Mike Anderson (17-8 in first season); Tennessee — Cuonzo Martin (13-12 in first season)
Projected Lineups: Arkansas — F Marvell Waithe (6-9, Sr., 5.7 ppg), F Devonta Abron (6-9, Fr., 5.7 ppg), G Rickey Scott (6-3, So., 9.7 ppg), G Mardracus Wade (6-3, So., 10.8 ppg), G Julysses Nobles (6-1, Jr., 9.0 ppg); Tennessee — C Jeronne Maymon (6-7, Jr., 12.0 ppg), F Kenny Hall (6-9, Jr., 6.2 ppg), F Cameron Tatum (6-7, Sr., 7.8 ppg), G Skylar McBee (6-3, Jr., 7.0 ppg), G Trae Golden (6-1, So., 13.1 ppg)