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Hogs say ranking 'elevated' intensity

by Bob Holt | February 23, 2021 at 2:06 a.m.

FAYETTEVILLE -- The University of Arkansas men's basketball team is No. 20 in The Associated Press poll released Monday, up four spots from last week's No. 24 ranking.

Alabama (18-5, 13-1), which plays Arkansas (17-5, 9-4) on Wednesday night in Walton Arena, moved up to No. 6 in the AP poll after being ranked No. 8.

Other SEC teams in the poll are No. 24 Missouri and No. 25 Tennessee.

"This is honestly something you dream about," Razorbacks senior guard Jalen Tate, a graduate transfer from Northern Kentucky, said on Monday of the team's national ranking. "When I came in here, I felt like we had a top-20, top-25 caliber team.

"It's something we talked about in the offseason. It's something we talked about sometimes in the non-conference, or even here and there in conference."

A seven-game SEC winning streak earned the Razorbacks a spot in the AP poll, but Tate said they can't let the program being ranked for just the fourth season since 2000-01 be a distraction.

"You can only stay in the moment," he said. "Now that you're here, it's not time to relax. The hardest thing about being in the top 25 is first getting in and then staying in. So that's the message we've been trying to have.

"I think it's actually elevated all of our habits and our work ethic is even more."

Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman agreed the Razorbacks have raised the quality level of their practices.

"I think we have had our best practices over the last three weeks," Musselman said. "We've had our most intense practices."

Musselman said the Razorbacks were able to add four new offensive sets when they beat Florida 75-64 last Tuesday night in Walton Arena in their most recent game.

"They picked them up really quickly and they were able to not only do them on the practice floor, but carry those sets into the game," Musselman said. "I think there's a heightened excitement right now of understanding this thing is winding down."

After playing Alabama, the Razorbacks are scheduled to finish the regular season against LSU at home Saturday, then play at South Carolina next week.

"I don't know how the game's going to go Wednesday or Saturday or the following Tuesday in South Carolina," Musselman said. "But I do know we've practiced really, really hard and we've practiced extremely focused -- and physical."

The Razorbacks have their highest ranking in the AP poll since being No. 18 in 2015. They ended that season ranked No. 21.

Last week marked Arkansas' first appearance in the AP poll since a one-week stay at No. 22 in 2018.

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