FAYETTEVILLE - As an Ole Miss All-SEC point guard in the 1980s become Ole Miss assistant coach in the 1990s and then Ole Miss head coach from 1998-2006, Rod Barnes became a persistent thorn in the Arkansas Razorbacks basketball side.
Tonight Barnes returns to Walton Arena head coaching the California State-Bakersfield Road Runners in Arkansas’ final nonconference game before the Razorbacks’ SEC opener hosting Tennessee at noon Saturday at Walton Arena.
Tip-off between the 7-7 Road Runners of the Western Athletic Conference and the 9-2 Razorbacks is 7 p.m and will be televised by the SEC Network.
Since taking over at CSU-Bakersfield in 2011 and guiding the program from Division II to Division 1, Barnes the last two seasons has coached the Road Runners to 24-8 and 25-10 seasons. His 2015-2016 team advanced to the NCAA Tournament and his 2016-2017 team reached the NIT semifinal.
The current Road Runners have “played a tough schedule,” Anderson said and held their own, he said, into the second half on the road against the likes of national Pac 12 powers UCLA and Arizona.
“ If anyone knows anything about Rob, this team, they mirror him,” Anderson said. “They're intense, hard-nosed, tough, scrappy kind of players. Been on the road at UCLA and played them pretty good (a 75-66 loss). It's a team that played Arizona pretty good for a half.”
Although an undersized team, with 6-6 forward Shon Briggs their tallest starter for their last game with 6-10 center Aly Motaz and 6-8 forward Greg Lee playing off the bench, CSU-Bakersfield has outrebounded its opponents 488-472 while Arkansas has been outrebounded, 388-382 including 34-25 by Oral Roberts University even as the Razorbacks routed the Golden Eagles, 104-69 in their last game played Dec. 19 at Walton.
“They’re a scrappy team so we have to keep them off the boards,” Anderson said.
CSU-Bakersfield relies on balanced scoring with Jarkel Joiner, an Oxford, Miss. native, averaging 11.6 points and three others 10.7, 10.6 and 10.6.
Starting guard Brent Wrapp only averages 3.3 points yet is offensively prominent dishing 76 assists in 14 games.
Anderson said tonight’s game will be “a will of the tempos” with Barnes trying to establish the slower, use the clock tempo that he coached at Ole Miss while Anderson craves the uptempo that he played for Nolan Richardson at Tulsa and then assisted Richardson with for 17 years at Arkansas and has head coached since 2002 first at Alabama-Birmingham and then Missouri and since 2001 at Arkansas.
The Road Runners aren’t necessarily easy prey but the biggest enemy that the Razorbacks face could be themselves should they look past tonight and ahead to Saturday and 19th-ranked Tennessee commencing the SEC.
“This team has been pretty good for the most part of staying into today,” Anderson said Tuesday. “Like today's practice they just want to get better and staying in the now. Cal State Bakersfield is a team that we've got to worry about. Tennessee will come once you get in the conference race. The most important game is this game coming up. That's gonna be our job as a coaching staff to emphasize it to our guys stay on task.”
From right after last Wednesday night’s game against Oral Roberts until they reassembled Saturday night for practice at Walton, Anderson allowed the Razorbacks pre Christmas time to go home for a holiday break.
He said the Razorbacks paid for their break during Saturday night’s practice but appeared molding into form after practicing twice Christmas Day.
“The first practice coming back was an out of rhythm type practice,” Anderson said. “They couldn't catch the basketball, but I thought the first practice back was typical. I thought the practice on Christmas Day was a lot better, more physical. I'm looking forward to getting even a little bit better today (Tuesday) so we can get back in the sync of playing good basketball.”
Pre Christmas the Razorbacks rolled on a 4-game winning streak during which their bench was as instrumental as their starters.
Anderson said that far more excites than him than he is miffed that the Razorbacks still haven’t cracked the Associated Press rankings and remain the team with the most AP votes outside the top 25.
“I know we’ve got a really good basketball team,” Anderson said. “I know we’ve got a team that’s getting better. We can’t worry about rankings. That’s just somebody’s opinion.”