Marvell Waithe's confidence could have been shaken, just like the rest of his Arkansas teammates following a 23-point loss at No. 2 Kentucky.
The Razorbacks forward, however, made it crystal clear his optimism was intact while preparing to face a second straight ranked team.
Arkansas (13-5) hosts No. 20 Michigan on Saturday, a step out of conference play for both teams — one both hope to use to enhance their NCAA tournament resumes. It's the first trip to Fayetteville for the Wolverines (15-4) since 1981.
Much has changed since Michigan's only other appearance at Arkansas, most notably the construction of the 19,200-seat Bud Walton Arena in 1993.
More than most years, the arena has been the Razorbacks' saving grace this season. Arkansas is 13-0 at home, including a 98-88 win over then-No. 15 Mississippi State on Jan. 7, and it's that undefeated record that fueled Waithe's belief heading into the matchup with the Wolverines.
“We do own (the arena),” Waithe said. “We do own it, and we are going to continue to own it. We have got to handle our business when we play Michigan on Saturday.”
Arkansas was outclassed by the Wildcats, particularly by 6-foot-10 freshman Anthony Davis and 6-foot-9 sophomore Terrence Jones, who combined to block 12 shots in Kentucky's 86-63 win Tuesday night.
Michigan, which is coming off a 60-59 win over No. 9 Michigan State, presents a different type of challenge for the Razorbacks. The Wolverines don't start a player taller than 6-foot-8 forward Jordan Morgan and thrive on the perimeter — ranking second in the Big Ten in 3-pointers made.
In order for Arkansas to disrupt Michigan, it will likely have to continue prospering on the frenetic, pressing style that first-year coach Mike Anderson learned as an assistant to former Razorbacks coach Nolan Richardson. Arkansas leads the Southeastern Conference by forcing an average of 18 turnovers per game.
“I don't know what they're calling it right not but certainly is a tempo faster than we see most of the time,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “Hopefully we can adapt we can always adapt to whatever tempo people try and play.”
The Wolverines haven't won a game on an opponent's home court this season, including losses at Virginia, Indiana and Iowa. It's a scenario the Razorbacks are familiar with.
“I keep saying if you look across the nation, more teams are holding serve at home,” Anderson said. “It doesn't guarantee you winning, but the familiarity — sleeping in your own bed, that same routine that you do every day — for most kids they're more comfortable playing at home.”
A loss to Michigan would give Arkansas its second two-game losing streak of the season. The Razorbacks lost back-to-back games early in the season at Connecticut and Oklahoma, though they managed to rebound with a seven-game home winning streak before a loss at Mississippi.
With only nine scholarship players, including four freshmen, Anderson knows every win is critical for maintaining Arkansas' confidence moving forward. He's also ready to see how the group responds following the loss at Kentucky.
“I think it's a great test for our guys to find out where we are,” Anderson said. “We've had some adversity. … So, we've got a chance to capture the nation's eye. They get a chance to see us. It's great exposure for our program.
The Razorbacks are led by freshman BJ Young's 14.7 points off the bench. Young, who played with Michigan freshman point guard Trey Burke during camps while the two were in high school, said he had no doubt Arkansas would bounce back from the loss at Kentucky.
“We still have good confidence as a team,” Young said. “But this is an important game for us to win and keep our home record undefeated … So we need to go into this game focused and ready.”