By ROBBIE NEISWANGER
Arkansas News Bureau
FAYETTEVILLE — For the better part of three seasons, Arkansas coach John Pelphrey and the Razorbacks have experienced their share of frustrations.
Off-the-court troubles left them shorthanded. Injuries have hurt the roster. So it’s no surprise continuity has been an issue for a team that has had its share of players being on and off the floor.
But when Arkansas (13-6, 3-3 in Southeastern Conference) plays Vanderbilt (15-4, 3-2) in Memorial Gym tonight at 5 p.m., the Razorbacks finally appear to be experiencing the "strength in numbers" motto Pelphrey has preached all season. Barring any last-minute changes, Arkansas will be at full strength for the third straight game when it tries to knock off the Commodores in Nashville, Tenn.
While it may not sound like a big deal, it means something for a program that hasn’t had an entire roster available much of the past two seasons.
"Everybody is a key piece to the team," Arkansas guard Marcus Britt said. "And if you are injured that’s like having a missing piece to the puzzle. We have to do the best we can for the people that are out.
"When we are healthy, we are a great basketball team, I think."
Finding out hasn’t been easy because of the rash of absences that have plagued the program. Take this season for example. Arkansas has had three players (Marshawn Powell, Michael Sanchez and Rickey Scott) miss time with injuries. Powell missed a game because of a suspension. And, most recently, Jemal Farmer was missing for two games because, as Pelphrey described it, he was trying to "figure some things out."
The list is lengthy. It was more extensive last year, prompting Pelphrey to be asked if he felt he has been snakebit because of the problems. Pelphrey said no because everyone has a "tough road to hoe" in life.
"I think through the tough times sometimes, those things are what really make you better," Pelphrey said. "When you really get challenged and you’ve got to get down to the core of it, you’ve got to figure out what it is you believe in, who you are and then you’ve got to go out there and walk it. I think that’s the greatest challenge. When there’s not adversity, there’s not something you’ve got to deal with, I don’t know if you really get better in those situations."
Of course, having a complete roster doesn’t guarantee success.
The Razorbacks were at full strength, after all, for its 32-point loss at Florida last Saturday. But Pelphrey and Arkansas certainly believes continuity helps. He’s hoping it will pay off for his team as the Razorbacks inch closer to the second half of conference play.
"Our team, you look at it, they deserve a lot of credit for being tough and physical and having a chance to compete and win some of these basketball games," Pelphrey said. "We’ve taken a couple of licks. That’s always something that probably happens during a course of a season. But we also understand we have a chance to work and get better."
Arkansas certainly will need each player at his best against the Commodores, who picked up an impressive road win at Mississippi State on Thursday night. Vanderbilt is undefeated in Memorial Gym this season and are trying to work their way into the NCAA Tournament field.
The Razorbacks, meanwhile, are simply looking for good news on the road after struggling most of the season. Two of Arkansas biggest losses have come on the road this season. Ending the skid is of utmost importance.
"They’re going to have an opportunity," Pelphrey said. "And there’s a lot of basketball to be played here, a lot of games to be played.
"We’re kind of heading into the last third (of the season), but 11, 12 games minimum. There needs to be a recognition of taking everything we’ve got at this point in time and trying to be the best we can be. I tell you, we’re going to need to be with Vanderbilt. Vandy is good."
But Arkansas is confident it is capable of grabbing a win with everyone’s help. It’s taken awhile, but the Razorbacks believe they’re going to experience the benefits of having strength in numbers.
"We need everybody on the team because everybody plays a big part of the team," Arkansas forward Glenn Bryant said.
"Now that we have everybody back we can really make some noise."