Arkansas hopes to earn respect with visit to No. 1 Kentucky
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Bobby Portis isn't one to usually stump for respect anywhere other than on the basketball court.
Saturday, however, is no usual game for surging Arkansas - and its star forward had much more than normal to say about the No. 18 Razorbacks' chances when they visit No. 1 Kentucky (28-0, 15-0).
Arkansas (23-5, 12-3 Southeastern Conference) enters the game on a pair of winning streaks, seven straight this season and three in a row over the Wildcats.
That includes a pair of wins last season by the Razorbacks, who have won 10 of 11 games overall and hope to do much more than play the underdog role in the SEC's most marquee matchup of the season.
''People really don't believe in us, I feel like,'' Portis said. ''I feel like teams, and so many people around the country, are still kind of sleeping on us at the moment. Hopefully, Saturday, our team can change that.''
Portis, second in the SEC with an average of 17.6 points per game, has been at the forefront of Arkansas' quest for its first NCAA tournament berth since 2008. The 6-foot-11 sophomore had 22 points in an 81-75 win over Texas A&M on Tuesday, his 23rd straight game in double figures.
He's also the lone prep McDonald's All-American at Arkansas, a sobering fact as the Razorbacks prepare to face Kentucky's abundance of recruiting riches.
Just don't try and tell Portis that.
''That doesn't mean anything anymore,'' Portis said. ''That's high school stuff, that's old stuff, that's out the window. The McDonald's All-American stuff has nothing to do with playing basketball.''
Arkansas shocked the Wildcats in Fayetteville last season when Michael Qualls slammed home a thundering two-hand dunk with 0.2 seconds remaining in overtime, giving it an 87-85 win. The Razorbacks followed that with their first win in Rupp Arena since their 1993-94 national championship season, again coming in overtime.
While Portis said Arkansas is ''very confident'' leading into Saturday, he also stressed ''last year has nothing to do with this year.''
Fourth-year Arkansas coach Mike Anderson has repeatedly said this season that each ''next game is the biggest game'' for a program desperate to return to the NCAA tournament - as well as re-establish itself as nationally relevant.
The Razorbacks will have their biggest stage of the season on Saturday, an opportunity they've earned while climbing back to the ranks of the SEC's elite.
''When this league was at its best, Arkansas was very relevant,'' Anderson said. ''We feel like we're trending in that direction.''
Kentucky's 28-game winning streak is the second-longest in school history, trailing only a 32-game stretch from 1953-55. It's also the longest in a single season for the Wildcats, who haven't faced a ranked opponent since a 58-50 win over Louisville on Dec. 27.
''We respect our opponent, but we don't fear anyone,'' Anderson said. ''So, going in, our guys are going with a lot of confidence.''