Tigers get first real test against Arkansas

Thursday, November 30, 2006

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- As far as Mike Anderson goes, Missouri's matchup with Arkansas today is just another game.

Or so he says.

The first-year coach has the Tigers off to a 7-0 start, but the Razorbacks will be the first opponent from a major conference -- and the team that gave Anderson his start, as an assistant under Nolan Richardson.

"It's the next game on the schedule," Anderson said. "They're a good basketball team, they're undefeated. We're playing at home, we're trying to defend our home turf."

Anderson spent 17 seasons in Fayetteville, Ark., as an assistant, helping the Razorbacks win the national championship in 1994 and reach the championship game in 1995. He left to take over as head coach at Alabama-Birmingham in 2002, where in four seasons he led the Blazers to three-straight NCAA Tournament appearances.

"Arkansas gave me an opportunity to provide for my family, No. 1," Anderson said. "My kids were raised there. I've still got friends there, lots of friends there."

Only one of Missouri's wins came against a team that qualified for last year's NCAA Tournament.

Meanwhile, Arkansas (5-0) won the eight-team Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla., last weekend. The Razorbacks opened the season by beating Southeast Missouri State.

Razorbacks coach Stan Heath said the connection between Anderson and Arkansas will not be a factor.

"I look at this game as Missouri against Arkansas," Heath said. "Mike there, it fuels some other things. Mike is a very good person and has done a good job."

Arkansas returns two starters from last year's team that finished 22-10 after a loss to Bucknell in the first round of the NCAA tournament, but three players are averaging more than 10 points per game.

"We'll be on the road for the first time," Heath said. "We will be tested, we'll have to deal with the crowd and we'll have to deal with stopping their runs and manufacturing our own."

Heath is encouraged by his team's recent free throw shooting. The Razorbacks shot 81 percent from the line in Orlando.

"Free throws can be contagious and right now they are contagious in a good way," Heath said.

Forward Sonny Weams leads the Razorbacks with 14.8 points and six rebounds per game. The Razorbacks also have two talented guards in Patrick Beverly and Gary Ervin. Beverly, a freshman from Chicago, averages 13.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists, while Ervin averages 10.6 points and five assists.

"We're going to have to pick our defense up, pick up our offense and take it from there," Missouri forward Kalen Grimes said.

Arkansas and Missouri played every season from 1950 to 1970, and again from 1988 to 1997. The rivalry was renewed in 2004. Arkansas holds an 18-17 advantage, and Missouri has not won since 1991.

"Over the course of the years, there's been some great battles," Anderson said. "We want to see Mizzou Arena packed and let's see what takes place."

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