FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas believes its fortunes on the road have changed after turning in a pair of solid performances at Vanderbilt and Missouri.
They’ll find out if the newfound confidence is enough to help them snap their longest Southeastern Conference road drought.
Arkansas (17-9, 6-7 in SEC) will try to end its 12-game skid at Mississippi State when it plays in Humphrey Coliseum at 3 p.m. today. The Razorbacks are 3-17 in Starkville, Miss., since joining the conference and haven’t logged a win since Feb. 12, 2000, when Nolan Richardson’s team beat the Bulldogs 87-81.
But coach Mike Anderson didn’t pin the 12-game drought on the Razorbacks alone.
He said a talented opponent has probably caused plenty of the headaches as well.
“I think they have something to do with that, too,” said Anderson, who was an Arkansas assistant the last time the Razorbacks won in Starkville. “They play well.
“The time we went down there two years ago, my first year here, they were a very talented basketball team. So it’s life on the road and you have got to be able to impose your will, so to speak, and evidently we haven’t done that in the past.”
Arkansas is much more optimistic it can accomplish it after its recent play.
The Razorbacks have won four of their past five games, including a road victory at Vanderbilt on Feb. 8. Arkansas followed it up with an 86-85 loss at Missouri five nights later, putting together its best two-game road performance of the season.
Still, Arkansas is just 1-5 in SEC road games this season. But the Razorbacks insist the troubles are in the past as they make a push to reach .500 in SEC play today.
“We’re peaking right now and everybody is clicking,” Arkansas forward Coty Clarke said before the Alabama win Wednesday night. “So the success for the team right now is high because everybody is one and we’re going in the right direction and we see it. That’s the big thing. We actually see it.”
Arkansas’ opponent — Mississippi State — has been sliding in the other direction.
The Bulldogs got off to a 3-2 start in conference play, but has lost eight straight in their second season under coach Rick Ray. It has included three double-digit home losses, too, against Georgia (20 points), Kentucky (10) and Florida (11).
Arkansas beat the Bulldogs soundly last season, taking advantage of 29 Mississippi State turnovers in a 96-70 win in Bud Walton Arena. So Ray said his team will be thinking about handling Arkansas’ pressure, not its home win streak.
“The guys that are playing the game, they really don’t have any idea about the history,” Ray said. “All they really concern themselves with is what they’ve been doing since they’ve gotten there. I can’t imagine any of those guys are even cognizant of the fact they haven’t won here in the last 12 times.”
Arkansas lost 79-59 in its last trip to Starkville, which came during Anderson’s first season with the Razorbacks. It was one of six games Arkansas has lost by 10 points or more during its losing skid in Humphrey Coliseum.
Another sour performance would be a critical blow to Arkansas’ postseason hopes with five games remaining in the regular season. But the Razorbacks are confident they’ll continue to play well on the road this afternoon.
“We’re just learning to win close games and know what to get into at the end and getting defensive stops and rebounding,” Clarke said. “That’s been the difference with us winning close games, on the road and at home. We just learned from our mistakes and we’ve been able to capitalize.”
Arkansas (17-9, 6-7 in SEC) at Mississippi State (13-13, 3-10 in SEC)
When: 3 p.m.
Where: Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville, Miss.
TV/Web: SEC TV
Radio: Razorback Sports Network
Series: Arkansas leads 29-25
Last Meeting: Arkansas 96, Mississippi State 70 on 1/23/13
Coaches: Arkansas — Mike Anderson (54-36 in third season); Mississippi State — Rick Ray (23-25 in second season)
Projected Lineups: Arkansas — F Bobby Portis (6-10, Fr., 13.1 ppg), F Coty Clarke (6-7, Sr., 9.2 ppg), G Michael Qualls (6-6, So., 11.5 ppg), G Ky Madden (6-5, Jr., 12.8 ppg), G Fred Gulley (6-2, Sr., 4.5 ppg); Mississippi State — F Gavin Ware (6-9, So., 10.6 ppg), F Colin Borchert (6-8, Sr., 9.0 ppg), G Craig Sword (6-3, So., 13.6 ppg), G Trivante Bloodman (6-0, Jr., 6.5 ppg), G Fred Thomas (6-5, So., 7.9 ppg)