Flying into Baton Rouge on Friday, Arkansas didn’t face the same treacherous conditions that greeted Kentucky earlier in the week.
Leaving home, though, still presents peril for the Razorbacks.
Inside raucous Bud Walton Arena, Arkansas (13-7, 2-5 Southeastern Conference) pesters, bumps, grates and yanks in a stifling brand of pressure, badgering opponents to gorge on turnovers for easy offense.
“If they are capable of turning you over, getting steals, they get out in the open floor,” LSU coach Johnny Jones said. “They can put a lot of pressure on you and rattle your team if you are not poised.”
Taking that style away from Fayetteville?
Well, no matter how often Arkansas tries to bring it along, it’s seemingly left behind — a reality cruelly captured in the Razorbacks’ 3-25 record on road and neutral floors under Mike Anderson.
“If there’s a shortcoming, it’s not finishing,” Anderson said Thursday. “We haven’t finished well.”
And LSU (13-6, 4-3), which hosts Arkansas at 4 p.m. Saturday, doesn’t exactly fit the profile of an opponent primed for the Razorbacks to change their fortunes. If anything, the Tigers are close stylistic relative to the Hogs.
Both teams push the pace, averaging more than 70 possessions per game, and rank in the top five among SEC squads at forcing turnovers — Arkansas with 16.6 and LSU with 13.7 — during conference play.
“They’re an athletic team like us,” LSU forward Jordan Mickey said. “They get teams out of their rhythm and can be a little more disruptive.”
Unlike Arkansas, LSU only presses selectively. Even then, its purpose isn’t solely to force turnovers, but to get opponents who’d prefer to chew clock to speed up. So Jones said that even if his team sees the press regularly in practice, prepping for Arkansas still poses difficulty.
“It’s hard to simulate other team’s presses because of their speed that you normally would get from other people, their length, and the way they rotate out of their press,” Jones said. “They keep coming, they have fresh guys do that on a consistent basis.”
But how much havoc will Arkansas wreak at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center?
Sure, you can point out an easy explanation: The Razorbacks wheeze and cough offensively on the road, where their 72.6 points per game is roughly 14 points lower than on The Hill and are shooting just 40.7 percent.
Delve deeper, though. Arkansas’ press, the primer for its offense, doesn’t get revving. Instead, Arkansas forces just 15 turnovers, nearly five below its home average, and only scores 15.3 points off those takeaways — exactly nine less points than at Walton Arena.
The dropoff may stem from the fact Arkansas’ implicit mentality that officials can’t see every bump, hand-check or arm bar produces more whistles on the road. The Razorbacks commit roughly 23 personal fouls and send opponents to the line for about 30 free throws per game.
There’s also another factor to remember: There aren’t 19,000-plus fans clad in red screaming to give you a boost of energy.
“If they get behind you, you get a couple steals, (there’s) that roar behind you that gets in there,” Jones said. “Sometimes, that’s an intimidating factor.”
On Saturday, LSU should have no problem with crowd noise or simmering hostility, and a friendly environment can keep panic or frustration from seeping in.
“It’s easier to communicate,” guard Hickey said. “Maybe you might be a little more nervous there, but it’s all about executing — step through the trap, doing the positive things.”
Having Hickey, a junior accustomed to draping himself on ballhandlers as the SEC’s steals leader, handle the ball doesn’t induce as many tremors of worry. Throw in a sterling 3.0 assist-to-turnover ratio in seven conference games, and Jones’ anxiety should induce stress.
“If you feel like you have them off balance and can attack or split it, he can do that as well if he feels like the pass is covered,” Jones said. “He can beat it with the dribble because of his speed, so I let him really go with what he feels.”
Hickey, too, can confidently distill a quick scouting report.
“They want to trap in the corners,” Hickey said. “We’ve just got to stay away from the baseline and just make solid plays. They’re going to try and speed you up, but that’s a style we play.”
Arkansas, however, senses it’s close to a breakthrough after closes road losses to Tennessee and Georgia — ones where the Hogs led inside the final three minutes. If any mentality needs to change, it’s being tepid with time winding down, Anderson said.
“We’ve settled, and I think that has led to where guys are not being as aggressive,” Anderson said. “You’ve got to be aggressive, and you’ve got to be able to make the play.”
Leaving Jones leery, the Razorbacks might find a way to literally turn the pressure and frustration on to LSU.
“They are certainly one of those teams that are looking for the next opportunity,” he said. “You have to make sure that you try to guard against that.”