November 27, 2014

After years of mediocrity, Arkansas could be on the verge of something special with Bobby Portis leading the way.

The No. 25 Razorbacks try to match their best start in nine seasons when they host North Texas on Friday night.

Arkansas (4-0) climbed into this week's AP poll for the first time since November 2007 after outscoring its first three opponents by an average of 25.3 points. The Razorbacks went on to validate their ranking with Tuesday's 78-72 win at SMU, handing the Mustangs just their second home loss in 23 games since the start of last season.

"A lot of people don't win here, so it was a big opportunity for us," guard Michael Qualls said. "That would be horrible news just to hear we broke the Top 25 to come lose a day later."

Portis racked up 22 points and Qualls scored 13 for Arkansas, which shot 6 of 15 from 3-point range to improve to 31 of 63 (49.2 percent) this season. The Razorbacks, who haven't made the NCAA tournament since 2008, hadn't won their first four games since opening 5-0 in 2006-07.

"I think we learned a lot about ourselves tonight and this is exactly the type of game we needed at this point," coach Mike Anderson said. "I'm proud of these guys. ... It's not necessarily about the resume, it's more about our team getting better. I thought we got better. This was a test, and we passed."

Much of the Razorbacks' success can be attributed to Portis, who leads the team with 17.5 points per game. The 6-foot-11 sophomore is shooting 58.7 percent while going 5 of 6 from long distance.

"Bobby continues to play at a high level, and that's so critical for our basketball team. He's put the time in, he's dedicated himself to becoming an even more versatile basketball player. He's playing stronger, he's playing a lot longer, getting to the basket," Anderson said.

"He's playing with a lot of confidence right now. He wants to be a great player."

The Razorbacks now return home, where they've won nine straight dating to last season. Arkansas has compiled a 37-1 home record against unranked teams since 2012-13.

That doesn't bode well for the Mean Green (4-1), who have been outscored by an average of 26.2 points in dropping each of their 22 games against Top 25 foes since 1996-97. North Texas hasn't faced a ranked opponent since falling 71-51 at No. 16 Creighton on Nov. 9, 2012.

"It's a team that brings in athletes, they go deep in their bench," Anderson said of the Mean Green. "And they're going to come in with nothing to lose and everything to gain. ... Every game is a big game for our basketball team."

North Texas is coming off Wednesday's 67-52 victory over winless Mississippi Valley State. The Mean Green won despite shooting 5 of 16 from 3-point range and 10 of 20 from the foul line.

"I'm really disappointed in our effort today," coach Tony Benford told the team's official website. "That's on me. The guys have got to be ready to play and we weren't ready to play. I'm disappointed in the effort and the focus. We've got to bring great energy every night."

North Texas outrebounded the Delta Devils 49-35 and held them to 26.2 percent shooting. Muhammed Ahmed scored 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting off the bench.

The Mean Green are averaging 68.4 points. They could have trouble keeping up with a Razorbacks team scoring 89.3 per game, among the best marks in the country.

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