FAYETTEVILLE — The University of Arkansas basketball team has inexperienced players but a veteran coach.
Mike Anderson, 59, is in his eighth season as the Razorbacks’ coach and 17th season as a college head coach, including previous stops at Alabama-Birmingham and Missouri.
Along with Roy Williams at North Carolina, Tom Izzo at Michigan State and Mark Few at Gonzaga, Anderson is one of four current coaches at the NCAA Division I level with at least 15 seasons on the job who hasn’t finished with a losing record. He’s had 14 winning seasons and nine NCAA Tournament appearances, and twice his teams went 16-16 — once at Missouri and once at Arkansas.
The Razorbacks (10-7, 1-4 SEC) have their first four-game losing streak under Anderson going into tonight’s matchup against Missouri (10-6, 1-3) in Walton Arena, but it’s not the first time he’s had to deal with this scenario.
During the 2004-05 season, Anderson’s UAB team lost four in a row but played in the NCAA Tournament and finished 22-11.
Anderson’s first Missouri team had a four-game losing streak in the 2006-07 season and finished 18-12.
“I think you don’t panic,” Anderson said of guiding a team through a rough stretch. “I think that’s the biggest key. If they don’t see you panic, they’re going to be OK. What we do works, and we’ve seen that early on.”
The Razorbacks started the season 6-1 — including a 73-72 victory over Indiana at home — before their struggles in recent weeks, which include four losses at home.
“Now we’ve just got to be able to put it together here,” Anderson said. “It’s nothing that some good winning wouldn’t take care of.”
Anderson said after No. 20 Ole Miss beat Arkansas 84-67 on Saturday in Oxford, Miss., that he thought the Razorbacks’ confidence “has been kind of shattered” by the losing streak.
“You can see our confidence level is pretty low right now because of the way we’re playing,” Razorbacks sophomore forward Daniel Gafford said. “The last game we played with some fight, but we didn’t play with as much fight as we needed.”
Gafford, averaging 24.4 minutes in 51 career games, is Arkansas’ most experienced player. Six of the nine Razorbacks who have played in every game this season are newcomers.
“Our confidence level is going to get back up, but we’ve just got to come out and play the basketball that we played at the beginning of the year,” Gafford said. “We need to play with the confidence level we had earlier in the year and not this basketball that we’ve been playing.”
Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin said there’s no question Anderson — who has a 361-191 career record — can lead a turnaround at Arkansas.
“But only God can make a guy go from 18 to 21,” Martin said in a pregame news conference with Missouri media. “That’s what it is. Whatever it is they’re going through, they’ll go through it.”
The Tigers won 66-43 at Texas A&M on Saturday to end a three-game losing streak. They went to the NCAA Tournament last season despite twice losing three games in a row.
“You go through the locker room and you don’t scrap what you do, but you might tweak it,” Martin said. “You might change the lineup.
“But (Anderson has) established himself as one of the better coaches in all of college basketball. He’s not scrapping the program or changing this or that. He’ll do what they do because you can see guys who can make shots. They have good length, good athleticism, good size. But that age is what it is.”
Anderson said the Razorbacks need to play with a greater sense of urgency, especially on defense.
“We’ve got to play with a little bit more pop, a little more energy,” Anderson said. “We’re an energy team. Once that energy is injected from a defensive standpoint, then we’re in an attacking mode offensively as well.”
Gafford said Anderson’s experience can be a big help in getting the Razorbacks winning again.
“He tells us to not let go of the rope,” Gafford said. “He comes in every day and tells us the stuff we need to do and the stuff that we aren’t doing. He’s just being a good coach.”
Anderson said he’s confident the Razorbacks will improve as the season progresses.
“Getting in the gym and continuing to work, and continuing to believe in each other,” Anderson said. “We’ll eventually get over the hump.
“We’re becoming a team. There’s a learning curve.”