Published: Wednesday, December 30, 2020
FAYETTEVILLE — In sports, the term business trip is often referred to by athletes who want to block out distractions and focus on their upcoming game.
But Mike Neighbors said his team’s travels to Kentucky on Thursday will feel like a business trip for other reasons.
“We land. We go straight to the gym,” he said. “We stretch out. We play. We get back on the bus, get to the airport and (we’re) home shortly after 2021 rings in, we hope.”
In a normal year, the No. 10 Razorbacks would land in Lexington, Ky., one day before their scheduled game with the No. 13 Wildcats.
“We would sit around the hotel all day tomorrow,” Neighbors said. “Got up and had a shootaround in the morning, got back, sit around until 7 o’clock at night. Filling the time with film sessions or walkthroughs or pregame meals. Literally killing time until game time and then go play the game. It’s a long day when you’ve got an 8:30 p.m. tip.”
Instead, his team will stay in Fayetteville tonight, eat and leave for Lexington at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday.
“It’s a major difference in how your two days are spent in leading up to a game,” Neighbors said.
This won’t be the first time the Razorbacks will travel the day of a game. Earlier this month they traveled to Dallas to play SMU, and they traveled to Little Rock to play Arkansas-Little Rock. The Razorbacks won both games by double digits.
The Kentucky game will be the first time Neighbors has traveled the day of a conference game. To add to the normal pressures of traveling on a game day, Neighbors is hopeful the weather doesn’t impact travel plans.
“Hopefully weather cooperates and we’re able to get up there as stress free as possible and focus,” he said.
Two Division I women’s basketball teams have opted out of the 2020-21 season – Duke and SMU. Neighbors said this year has required his team to make sacrifices, like traveling on the day of a game, but he thinks his team is seeing the benefits of those sacrifices.
“We didn’t have a Christmas party. Some people did. Some people had a Christmas party and those programs are missing their first three games,” he said. “Our kids are starting to see the benefit of not going into the locker room at halftime, of not having shootaround, of not having film session where we’re side-by-side-by-side, of not going into the locker room at halftime, pregame, postgame, all of those things.
“They’ve adjusted to that and I think when they see these other programs that they may not see doing that on TV they say, ‘That’s why we’re doing this.’ I think it kind of validates the things that they are sacrificing, the things that they are giving up.”
The Razorbacks (9-1) have played all their originally scheduled games so far this season and have vaulted into the top 10 of the Associated Press Top 25 poll for the first time since January 2003 when they reached No. 8.
Arkansas-Kentucky is scheduled to tip off at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday. The game will air on SEC Network.