- Associated Press - Friday, February 13, 2015

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) - Bobby Portis looked around during the first half of a blowout win over Mississippi State last week, smiling and waving his arms in encouragement.

Arguably Arkansas’ most beloved star since the school’s national championship days was once again holding court, much to the delight of the crowd in Bud Walton Arena.

The No. 24 Razorbacks (19-5, 8-3 Southeastern Conference) have won six of their last seven games, surging toward their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2008 behind the 6-foot-11 Portis.

The talented sophomore, a preseason first-team All-SEC selection, leads the conference in scoring with an average of 17.9 points per game. The former Little Rock standout has scored in double figures in all but one game this season, but he’s quick to deflect any individual recognition - either for his play or Arkansas’ success.

“I’m just trying to win, that’s all I’m trying to do,” Portis said. “I don’t really care about points or stats or anything. I’m just trying to go out there and help my team win, every time up and down the court.”

While Portis isn’t one to highlight himself, his play - and growing interaction with teammates and fans - has done so on its own this season. After deferring to the upperclassmen last season, when he averaged 12.3 points per game, Portis has embraced a leading role in his second go-around.

He is averaging 19.3 points and 10 rebounds in conference play and is in position to possibly become the Razorbacks first SEC scoring champion since the school began playing basketball in the SEC during the 1991-92 season.

For a school that has featured stars such as Corliss Williamson, Joe Johnson and Ronnie Brewer during its SEC tenure, that is no small achievement.

Portis’ growth, both literally - he grew an inch after last season - and figuratively has been noticed by coaches across the SEC, including South Carolina’s Frank Martin, who said he was a “huge” fan of the forward following an Arkansas win two weeks ago.

“We live in an era where we’ve created a culture in our game where we think these kids are going to be worried about high school prom dates and six months later walk into the SEC and dominate games,” Martin said. “And when they don’t do that, we say well they’re not as good as advertised. I think Bobby Portis is starting to prove as a sophomore just what kind of a basketball player he is.”

Portis has reached double figures in both points and rebounds in eight of his last nine games, including a 23-point, 10-rebound performance in Arkansas’ only home loss of the season, to Mississippi on Jan. 17.

He also leads the SEC in shooting at 56.4 percent from the field - an improvement over his 50.9 percent as a freshman.

“I just think maturity has really trickled in,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said. “A lot that has to do with Bobby, I think it has to do with his teammates. I think he’s stepped into a leadership role.”

The Razorbacks won their third straight game by double figures on Tuesday, a 101-87 win at Auburn. They next face a return matchup against the Rebels on Saturday, a game that could solidify Arkansas’ place as the best team behind No. 1 Kentucky in the SEC.

“I feel like everybody on our team wants to be one of the best teams in the country, and we know that we can be,” Arkansas junior Michael Qualls said. “So that’s what we’re going to do. And that starts with Ole Miss.”

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