By Robbie Neiswanger
Arkansas News Bureau
FAYETTEVILLE — It may not have been a work of art Wednesday night, but Arkansas accomplished something with its 66-56 win against Southeastern Missouri State in Bud Walton Arena.
The Razorbacks opened the season with three straight wins for the first time since 2006-07.
Southeastern Missouri State coach Dickey Nutt knows what stands in Arkansas’ path to a fourth straight win tonight, though. And he cautioned the Razorbacks that extending their win streak to four games to start the year won’t exactly be an easy feat against Alabama-Birmingham.
"Need to get ready because they’re very athletic at every position," said Nutt, whose team lost to the Blazers on Nov. 13. "They’re going to show you some size. They’re going to show you some guys that can shoot the ball just as well. They’re very, very strong and physical.
"They’re going to be very, very good."
Arkansas will be on the court for the third time in five days tonight at 7, playing UAB in its annual date in North Little Rock’s Verizon Arena.
The Razorbacks haven’t had much trouble sprinting out to wins against lesser opponents early this season, but will receive their first significant test against the unranked Blazers.
It may not be Duke, Kentucky, Connecticut or Michigan State, but Arkansas is looking forward to its biggest game to date. One reason is the chance to see where it stands with nonconference play heating up. The other reason, center Delvon Johnson said, has something to do with last year’s meeting between both teams.
"It’s revenge for real," Johnson said. "The buzzer beater, I still remember it to this day."
Johnson was referring to the disastrous ending in Fayetteville. Arkansas blew a five-point lead in the final two minutes, falling 73-72.
But it wasn’t just the loss. It was how it happened. UAB won on an inbounds play at the buzzer, when Howard Crawford rolled off a screen at the top of the key, caught a pass and dunked home the winning points.
"That was a difficult loss for us," Arkansas coach John Pelphrey said. "They were a very good basketball team. I thought we played very well.
"We didn’t do a good job on the last play."
It’s the type of nightmare Arkansas doesn’t want to relive when it sees the Blazers again.
"It was pretty disappointing," Arkansas guard Rotnei Clarke said. "That’s hard to take."
The Razorbacks are hoping to put together a better performance from start to finish against UAB, which is coached by Mike Davis.
But Arkansas has plenty to clean up from its ugly showing Wednesday night. The first mission is keeping opponents off the offensive glass after the Redhawks took advantage of second-chance points.
Pelphrey said Arkansas would spend a good chunk of time working on box outs during Thursday’s practice. They will be needed against a team that, despite losing some veterans, is still strong.
"Even though they lost a lot, it looks like they’re right back in the same situation they were a year ago," Pelphrey said. "They’re long, they’re athletic, they move that ball. They’re a very tough matchup from a defensive scheme of things. And they’re very, very hard-nosed and tough from the defensive side of it."
Arkansas is hoping it will be aided by forward Marshawn Powell’s return tonight. The sophomore missed the past two games resting his sore foot.
Pelphrey said Powell planned to practice Thursday and would be available if he feels comfortable. He won’t be 100 percent, but still could help a thin frontcourt that experienced foul trouble in its last game.
"It’s tough not having him because of how great of a player he is and what he brings to this team," Clarke said. "But we’ve just to focus on who we have right now, on who is playing. I know those guys can get the job done as well."
They’ll be tested tonight. UAB is led by 6-foot-10 center Cameron Moore, who is averaging 18.5 points and 9.5 rebounds a game. The 6-8 Ovie Soko also averages 13.3 points and 5.8 boards.
UAB ultimately won last season’s game because of its size and athleticism. But Arkansas is confident it is ready for the rematch and plans to extend its win streak to four games.
"I feel if we play like we know we can play, we should win," Johnson said. "No question."