FAYETTEVILLE — The No. 9 University of Arkansas basketball team will be back in Walton Arena tonight to take on Troy after a successful, but tiring appearance in the Maui Invitational last week.
The Razorbacks (5-1) went 2-1 in Lahaina, Hawaii, and played three games in three days in beating Louisville 80-54, losing to No. 10 Creighton 90-87 and beating No. 17 San Diego State 78-74 in overtime before flying home and arriving back on campus Thursday morning.
Among the Razorbacks playing the most minutes in the Maui Invitational were junior guard Ricky Council (38.7 per game) and freshman guard Anthony Black (37.3). Council played a combined 81 minutes against Creighton and San Diego State.
“I’ve talked to other people who have played in Maui,” Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman said Saturday. “I think that’s one of the concerns, is coming back and playing your first game.
“I know sleep patterns are a little bit messed up right now for all of us but hopefully by [Sunday night] we’ll be a little bit more adjusted time frame-wise.”
Council said Saturday he feels good physically.
“I’m feeling well-rested,” he said. “So I’m pretty sure everybody should be alright.”
Arkansas could get a boost tonight with the possible availability of freshman guard Nick Smith, a preseason first team All-SEC pick by the media and coaches, who hasn’t played this season while recovering from a right knee injury.
Musselman said Smith gradually has been able to do more in practice and will be evaluated again today to determine if he’ll be medically cleared to play tonight.
“He’s getting closer to playing for sure,” Musselman said.
In Smith’s absence Council, a transfer from Wichita State, is averaging a team-high 19.0 points and Black is averaging 14.2.
“Just get the right combination of practice and rest,” Black said. “After that we’ll be ready to play.”
Troy (6-1) has a road victory over a Power 5 conference team, beating Florida State 79-72.
“I know they’re going to be hungry,” Council said. “I know they’re going to come here to win.
“So we’re just going to have to be ready. We can’t take anybody for granted, as we’re seeing around the country smaller schools are beating bigger schools.”
The Trojans beat Southern-New Orleans, an NAIA team, 118-61 last Tuesday at home led by senior guard Nelson Phillips, who had 22 points, 13 steals, 8 rebounds and 8 assists.
Phillips tied the NCAA record for steals in a game set twice by Oklahoma guard Mookie Blaylock, who had 13 against Centenary during the 1987-88 season and 13 against Loyola Marymount during the 1988-89 season.
“It was just amazing to watch him fly around and create chaos defensively,” Troy Coach Scott Cross said of Phillips in a news release. “He was so close to a quadruple-double. He was plus-61 in his 27 minutes on the floor, which is an outlandish stat.”
Troy sophomore guard Duke Miles plays off the bench, but he’s averaging a team-high 14.0 points in 21.3 minutes. Phillips is averaging 12.6 points and junior guard Christyon Eugene is averaging 12.0 off the bench.
Seven Trojans are averaging at least 9.0 points and none are averaging more minutes than senior guard Kieffer Punter’s 25.1.
Troy is averaging 9.0 three-point baskets and has a +8.9 rebounding margin and +7.8 turnover margin.
The Trojans’ only loss is to the University of St. Thomas, a private college in St. Paul, Minn., that plays in the Summit League. The Tommies (5-3) beat Troy 78-76 at a tournament in Missoula, Mont. The next night the Trojans beat Montana 73-62.
“They present a lot of problems,” Musselman said. “They played excellent in Tallahassee against Florida State.
“They beat Montana at their place, so a really tough, gritty team. A team that plays really, really hard and creates turnovers.
“And then any time you face a team that can make threes and has a good game off the bounce and can dribble-drive, you’ve got to make some decisions from a defensive scheme standpoint.”
Cross, Texas-Arlington’s coach for 12 years and now in his fourth season at Troy, said the Trojans aren’t looking at tonight’s matchup as a way to get a nice paycheck from Arkansas for a guarantee game.
“We’re going to Arkansas to win that game,” Cross said after the Southern-New Orleans game according to a Troy news release. “We aren’t going there to just collect a check.”