Eric Musselman didn’t want to talk about past games with Kentucky this week, but Arkansas fans are going to turn back the clock Saturday.
“I don’t think Kentucky beating Arkansas or having any type of streak, in my opinion, doesn’t have any bearing at all,” Musselman told the media Wednesday. “That kind of sounds like a broken record, but every game comes up with its own theme and identity when the refs throw the ball up.”
Arkansas is winless in the past seven meetings with the No. 10-ranked Wildcats. That’s the part Musselman doesn’t have much to say about and why should he?
Nothing that has happened in those games has anything to do with him or this team. It doesn’t take a basketball guru to understand how impactful Musselman has been on this group, which has improved greatly since being under the tutelage of former coach Mike Anderson.
“We have played really competitive all year, and we just want to play with maximum effort,” Musselman said. “I told [the team] after the [Vanderbilt game Wednesday night] the only way we will be able to compete with Kentucky is if we bring our ‘A’ game. We can’t bring a ‘B+’ game and expect to compete.”
The past is the past, but what about a blast from the past?
Bud Walton Arena hasn’t been itself for quite some time. Once, one of the most feared arenas in college basketball the mediocrity of recent decades has removed some of the luster.
However, now with a team that is playing well and a coach who is a marketing whiz, this game atmosphere has a chance to be the most electric in 20 years. The game is sold out and at last check you couldn’t buy a ticket on broker sites for less than $100 and those were in the upper deck.
Musselman admits there is something different playing a traditional power such as Kentucky, and that he’s gotten many more ticket requests. He even has a group of friends from his youth from the San Diego area flying in for the occasion.
He’s already been impressed by home crowds. If Arkansas plays well, he is in for a real treat that he may never have witnessed before at a college venue. The Bud atmosphere has been that good.
“There’s just hype, you know. I am sure when the [New York] Yankees come to town in Major League Baseball, there is more outside noise,” Musselman said. “As a player, you should be ready to play every night. As a coach, I think if you bring great intensity every night …. I’m not going to coach any different whether it’s Vanderbilt or Kentucky.
You prepare the same way, and your level of play shouldn’t fluctuate like a yo-yo, either. You should be ready to play every night as a player and a coaching staff. You should have great preparation, and we have a game after the Kentucky game, too, that becomes important.”
However, the Wildcats won’t be intimidated. After a buzzer-beater loss at South Carolina, they will be determined. Their length and size could really hurt the undersized Hogs.
“Certainly, the teams we have had after a loss there’s a heightened awareness of what we didn’t do well and need to improve on,” Musselman said. “Many times losses grab your attention more than a win. Sometimes, when you win, you take some of the little things for granted.
“When you look at [Kentucky Coach John Calipari’s] record, he is pretty good after a loss. I can tell you that.
“They present a lot of problems with their defense, length and scoring ability,” Musselman said. “They are so well-coached, and I can go on and on.”
This is the biggest, most-anticipated game in the Musselman Era. It may be one of the more-anticipated in recent memory.
Anderson didn’t have many signature wins. The Hogs’ win at Indiana is already a good one and Kentucky would be monumental, both in his first season, with many more chances to go.
It could be a very historical day that paves the way for more of the past to become the future.