FAYETTEVILLE — Kentucky boasts one of the best rebounding teams in the Southeastern Conference, leaning on a big lineup that has bullied opponents.
So Kentucky assistant John Robic’s assessment of the Wildcats’ performance against Tennessee should serve as an alarm for Arkansas, which was outrebounded by Kentucky 50-32 last week.
"They had their way with us," Robic said. "They were space-eaters inside that were really, really physical. … We got our butts kicked on the glass, especially offensively."
Arkansas will get an up-close look at Tennessee and its physical tandem of forwards Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon tonight, when the teams play in Thompson-Boling Arena at 7 p.m. The Razorbacks (12-5, 1-3 in SEC) are trying to recover from last Saturday’s 66-61 overtime loss at Georgia, which was highlighted by rebounding woes.
That task won’t be any easier against the Vols (11-6, 2-2 in SEC). Tennessee boasts the conference’s best rebounding margin (plus-12.5 a game), while Arkansas holds the worst (minus-10.8). So Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said his team must find a way to close that gap if it has any way of registering its first road win of the season.
"Our guys have got in there and push and shove and come up with some rebounds," Anderson said. "Rebounding to me is all about want-to. Who wants it? How bad do you want it? So we’ve got play with that fire to go get the basketball."
No one should count on a miraculous turnaround for the Razorbacks.
Anderson has never fielded a team that has been dominant on the boards and much of it has to do with Arkansas’ style of play.
The Razorbacks aim to get up the floor quickly, force turnovers and control the pace of play. When working, it leads to more shots and misses. Arkansas is shooting just 35.8 percent in SEC play, too, which has led to even more rebounds.
But Arkansas can’t be manhandled like they were at Georgia. The Bulldogs held a 56-34 edge on the boards, grabbed 24 offensive rebounds and converted them into 22 second-chance points. The effort played an enormous role in Georgia’s win.
Anderson said Arkansas has spent plenty of time emphasizing its rebounding struggles in preparation for the Vols. He’s also making some adjustments in playing time for players, hoping to find a better rebounding group to match Tennessee.
"You’ll see more of the blue-collar guys on the floor," Anderson said. "I just thought in the Georgia game I was disappointed in the performances of guys. You have got to have toughness. You have got to have some blue-collars on the floor.
"I just didn’t think we had that mindset."
Anderson pointed to two players who should see increased playing time at Tennessee: 6-10 forward Moses Kingsley and 6-8 forward Jacorey Williams.
Kingsley is averaging 1 point and 2.8 rebounds in SEC games. Williams is contributing 1.3 points and 2.0 rebounds. But Anderson believes they’ll be needed to help the Razorbacks compete with Tennessee’s size and strength.
"We have got to get some energy guys out there on the floor," Anderson said.
Arkansas also needs Coty Clarke, who has fouled out of two straight games, to stay on the floor. Clarke is averaging 7.3 rebounds a game in SEC play even though he has battled through foul trouble against Kentucky and Georgia.
In addition, Anderson said he has challenged forward Alandise Harris, who was expected to bring toughness to the Hogs. Harris is averaging just 2.5 rebounds in conference play, including just four rebounds in four games on the defensive end.
"I just don’t think he is playing up to his capability," Anderson said. "Alandise to me is a guy that’s a physical specimen. He’s aggressive and in attack mode but it just seems like he is a little hesitant. We’ve got to get that hesitancy out of him so he can be a factor on our basketball team. … I just know he has a lot more in him."
Arkansas’ task is slowing Stokes (13.8 points, 9.9 rebounds) and Maymon (10.9 points, 8.2 rebounds) on the glass. The duo has formed one of the top rebounding tandems in the country, causing problems for opponents.
Stokes had 20 points and 15 rebounds in the Kentucky loss, while Maymon added 12 points and 5 boards. Both rank among the top four rebounders in the SEC.
"We spend a lot of time working on rebounding, and they just take pride in it," Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. "They know those are opportunities to score, especially 1 on 1, using their bodies when a shot goes up, getting an advantage and when you have both of those guys rebounding like that, they’re fun to watch."
But Arkansas needs help from its backcourt as well because Tennessee’s guards are strong rebounders. So Anderson said Arkansas must get a group effort to have any chance of matching the Volunteers on the boards tonight.
It won’t guarantee success for a program averaging just 57 points – 26.3 below its season average – in road games this season. But Anderson believes the Razorbacks can strengthen their chances significantly if they battle Tennessee on the boards.
"The finishing part of defense is rebounding the basketball and it takes maximum effort — by everybody," Anderson said.