Both teams come into game 5-1.
FAYETTEVILLE - The neutral court tested Arkansas Razorbacks become the road-tested Arkansas Razorbacks tonight in Houston.
At 6:30 p.m. televised on the CBS Sports Network at Texas Southern’s H&PE Arena that the University of Houston uses this season while its Hofheinz Pavilion undergoes renovation, Coach Kelvin Sampson’s hosting Cougars, 5-1, battle Coach Mike Anderson’s Razorbacks, also 5-1.
After beating Samford, Bucknell and Fresno State, three solid mid-majors visiting Walton Arena, the Razorbacks ventured last Thanksgiving through Sunday to the Phil Knight Invitational in Portland, Ore. and played three big name teams in four days. They outraced and outlasted Oklahoma, played close then lost badly down to reigning national champion North Carolina’s closing 13-0 run and then routed the UConn Huskies that earlier in the tournament beat local favorite Oregon.
It’s no gray area but a Gray area that in Houston the Razorbacks tonight face another big-name foe with big-name talent. Houston junior guard Rob Gray averages 23.6 points per game and scored 22 on Arkansas last season when the Razorbacks prevailed 84-72 at Walton.
It opened this 2-game SEC vs. American Athletic Conference home and home series between two programs that shared the same league membership from 1977-1990 when both played and generally nationally excelled in the since defunct Southwest Conference.
Rematching Gray in Houston off his last season’s exploits in Fayetteville appears no easy Arkansas task.
Anderson likens Gray to Arkansas senior scoring guards Jaylen Barford, 20.8 average, and Daryl Macon, 16.3 average.
“ An outstanding player,” Anderson said. “When you look at our guards, Barford and Macon, some guys are wired to score. Gray can score. He can really go off the dribble. He's got a great shot. He can get in there and hang and suspend. He shoots a lot of free throws. He's just got a knack for scoring, and he's been doing it since he was a freshman.”
Two seasons ago Gray led the Cougars in scoring. Last season he led not only the Cougars in scoring but the entire American Athletic Conference.
Junior guard Wes Vanbeck, 10 points in Fayetteville last season, supports Gray averaging a second on the team 13.6.points.
Junior starting guard Galen Robinson only averages 3.0 points now but Anderson vividly recalls him as “the one who really hurt us” penetrating to dish five assists and score 14 points.
Junior 6-6 Houston forward Devin Davis, averaging 10.3 points and a team-leading 7.3 rebounds, was injured during last season’s Arkansas game and only played three minutes at Walton.
“It affected them here,” Anderson said of Davis’ injury. “I’m sure he's looking forward to the game.”
Though Gray flashes impressive scoring stats, Anderson said Sampson’s Cougars “start with defense” and that “our defense has to travel,” which it obviously did stifling the talented UConn Huskies.
Touted 6-10 freshman Daniel Gafford of El Dorado has added much to the Razorbacks defense blocking nine shots but 6-5 forward Adrio Bailey, a team-leading 13 blocks, is Arkansas’ shot-blocking surprise. A surprise to most but his teammates, it seems.
“‘Dro is versatile,” Arkansas senior starting forward Trey Thompson of Madison via Forrest City High, said. “He’s very athletic. I think all of us on the team knew he could play this well. We just need to keep him going.”
Of Arkansas’ 2017-2018 returnees, Macon, 17 points, led Arkansas against Houston last season.
Barford, making the star-studded Phil Knight Invitational All-Tournament, presently wields Arkansas’ hottest hand.