FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. Arkansas’ men’s basketball team opens Southeastern Conference play on Saturday with a 7:06 p.m. game against Mississippi State. The game is being televised by FSN. The Razorbacks are 12-1 and have won 10 straight, including wins over No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 7 Texas. The Bulldogs are 10-5. Head coach John Pelphrey met with the media on Thursday to preview the game. Following is a partial transcript of that press conference.
“We feel very fortunate to get a win against Texas. I have tremendous respect for those guys and Coach (Rick) Barnes. I’m proud of our team. We’ve basically met all of our challenges in the non-conference portion of our schedule except one. If you had told me before the season that we would be 12-1 right now, that would have been good.
“This is our last time to talk about the non-conference for the next nine or 10 weeks. It will not be brought up again unless we make it matter. It’s in the past. This is a new season. There will be no blowouts; there will be great scouting and coaching. These games will come down to who works the hardest.
“The league is going to play its best basketball (now). Look at the records. There are very few teams with nine wins or less.
“Our greatest challenges lie ahead of us.”
“Jarvis Varnado is tremendous. He was the best defensive player in the league last year and I don’t imagine that changing this year. He has really improved. He’s a really good offensive player and is as good a big man as there is in the country.
“They still play Mississippi State-type defense. They are always among the leaders in field goal defense.
“Ravern (Johnson) is shooting the ball lights out. If there was voting today on the most improved player, he would have to be on that list.”
Dealing with success:
“We’ve got to handle any success we’ve had and not forget how hard we’ve worked. Success is evil. It can make you soft and make you think you are better than you really are. If you work hard, it does not guarantee you success, but it gives you a chance and that’s what we did.”
“We will find out it’s not just another game. It will be like the Texas game. It will be a close, hard-fought game. It could come down to a hustle play. Some of those things can swing games. If you want to compete for championships, you have to take care of home and go at least .500 on the road.”
“He has used his two years of experience. There were a bunch of guys here with him in the frontcourt. Before the sweat had dried off his body last year against North Carolina (second round of the NCAA Tournament), I told him his role had changed.
“There are two things I admire about Michael Washington. He is very, very competitive and coachable, and he doesn’t care about anything but winning.”
“Thinking back to when the (SEC pre-season) polls came out, we weren’t too consumed with that. I’m not consumed with what people are saying now. It’s human nature to relax, to think you are better than you really are or to point fingers. It’s not human nature to stay hungry or be selfless.”
“I thought he was about 80 percent (in the Texas game) and did okay. We were in foul trouble and had to put somebody in the game. We wanted to try to use him a little. The next step is for him to actually play well in a game.”
Marcus Britt and Marcus Monk (seven combined steals against Texas):
“There’s a reason we put those guys in there and go with an offense-defense lineup. I thought they did really well. Marcus and Marcus did a really good job of playing the type of defense we needed to have a chance to win the game.”