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Hogs: Basketball squad ready for conference routine

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas guard Kikko Haydar is getting tired of practices.

So are the rest of his teammates.

It’s understandable, considering the Razorbacks have been running through a football-like schedule the past three weeks. Arkansas has played games on Saturdays, then spent a week preparing and waiting for the next opponent.

“We definitely would like to play more frequently,” Haydar said Thursday afternoon. “This is just how the schedule ended up and it’s actually good that we have this break because we’re about to get into 18 straight games.

“It’s not ideal for us. We’d rather play more often, but it serves its purpose.”

The routine finally ends tonight at 7 p.m., when the Razorbacks play Texas-San Antonio in Bud Walton Arena. UTSA (4-8) is Arkansas’ final nonconference opponent before the Razorbacks (10-2) dive into their 18-game Southeastern Conference schedule next Wednesday at Texas A&M.

Two games a week will be the norm from now until the end of the regular season, giving Arkansas plenty of chances to perform. The Razorbacks are eager for the grind, too, after spending much of December on the practice court.

“We’re ready to play,” Arkansas guard Michael Qualls said. “But it’s nothing we’re not used to. Before the season we were ready to show what we had worked on during the year. It’s sort of like that right now.

“It kind of gets a little edgy in practice, but I like that. That shows me everybody’s ready to play. We’re all ready to get after somebody else.”

Arkansas carries a six-game win streak into tonight’s game, which is the program’s second-longest under coach Mike Anderson. The Razorbacks are expected to extend the streak to seven, wrapping up a stretch of seven straight games in the state.

Anderson has said throughout the stretch he hasn’t been concerned about Arkansas’ opponents, most of which have been lower-level programs. Instead, he wanted to see improvement from the Razorbacks as they geared up for conference play.

Anderson believes his team has handled the long stretches between games.

But he still believes there are a “lot of question marks” as the long breaks end.

“We’re just beginning, I think, as we get ready to get to the family (SEC play), but I think we’re seeing a team that’s kind of evolving,” Anderson said. “They’re playing with a lot of confidence. I think they’re trusting one another. But as you get closer to conference play you throw out the records. You throw all that out. Everybody is going to be 0-0. I still want to see us play at high level for a longer period of time, against some very good competition, which is what we’re going to see in the SEC.”

Anderson did get his wish in Arkansas’ last game, calling the 89-48 win against High Point a “complete performance.” The Razorbacks took a short break for Christmas before preparing for the Panthers and responded with a dominant night.

Anderson has tried to break up some of the latest monotony by holding scrimmage sessions. The most recent included Kikko Haydar and Dee Wagner serving as player/coaches, taking charge of each group to give the Razorbacks some variety.

Anderson said he has worried about his team looking ahead to SEC play, but believes they’ve found a way to keep their “edge” in practice.

“We’ve got enough guys here that if we’ve got some that want to look ahead, we’ll take the ones that are looking straight at who we’re getting ready to play,” Anderson said. “That’s the beauty of this basketball team. I think the focus is, stay in the now. Focus and stay in the now. To me, that’s the most important thing for our basketball team. Even as we try and get better. We’re just trying to get better each and every day and continue to work and trust one another. That’s the big key.”

But Anderson acknowledged that his players are ready to get back on the court.

They’ll finally get their wish against UTSA tonight.

“It’s kind of tough because we were used to playing,” Arkansas guard Anthlon Bell said. “But these past two weeks have been good for us, because we’ve gotten to be in the gym a lot. Everybody’s been in the gym putting in a lot of work.”

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