Coming down the stretch the past two campaigns hasn't exactly been a lot of fun for Arkansas guard Rotnei Clarke or his team.
But the junior star – who was named the SEC's Player of the Week on Monday – is having a ball this season as the Razorbacks head for the finish line.
"It is a lot more fun," Clarke said. "I think we have said it a couple of times this season that this is a different team. We have a different chemistry level. I love those guys in the locker room. We come hard and we work hard every single day in practice. We get prepared and we get focused.
"The outcome hasn't always been great, but it's a lot more fun going back to practice after the games because we know that effort is still going to be there," Clarke added. "I think we are making the right strides at the right time of year."
The Razorbacks (18-10, 7-7) have won four of their last five games after a three-game losing streak threatened to derail the season again.
"I think we have responded very well," Clarke said. "We knew we were capable of doing this and hopefully it continues. I feel like it is the right time to get going, get a streak going."
They'll be trying to win their third straight when Mississippi State (15-13, 7-7) comes in for an 8 p.m. game on Wednesday night at Bud Walton Arena.
"We knew we had it in us, it was just the fact of us not doing things that we needed to do to win games at the end," Clarke added. "But we have put it together and we are on a little run here."
Monday's honor was the second time this season and the third time in his career that Clarke has been named the SEC's Player of the Week.
He had 26 points in a home win over Kentucky and 17 in a road win at Auburn to earn the nod.
"It was a cool accomplishment and glory to God – first and foremost to him," Clarke said. "It doesn't happen without my teammates. The coaches put me in position to do that. The reason I get open, the reason I score is because my teammates are passing the ball to me or setting screens."
Clarke was just 4-of-11 from the field with 9 points at Mississippi State when the Bulldogs downed the Razorbacks 67-56 in Starkville on Feb. 9.
"I felt good, I just felt like shots didn't go down," Clarke said. "I had some open looks and my teammates found me and I just didn't knock them down. Give credit to Mississippi State, too, because they defended me well and defended us well. I felt like I had some good looks. I just didn't hit them."
He does not expect a repeat of that on Wednesday.
"I just have faith that they will go down," Clarke said. "I have put the time in to be confident in that and I'll just rely on my teammates to find me in open situations."
Clarke, averaging a team-leading 14.4 points while hitting 45 percent from 3-point range, has shown the tendency to take the ball to the basket lately and not just be a spot-up shooter.
"I think I am being more aggressive," Clarke said. "I think I have always had the ability to get to the free throw line and do the things that I am doing now. I think it is just in my mindset now that I am going to be more aggressive, whether it is trying to get the hole or get fouled and get to the free throw line. I think that has opened up my outside game as well."
Arkansas can assure itself of second in the SEC Western Division and a first-round bye in the league tournament with wins this week over Mississippi State and Ole Miss.
A win over Mississippi State and an Ole Miss loss at Auburn on Wednesday would also hand that bye to the Razorbacks.
"We obviously would like to have that two seed and not have to play a first-round game," Clarke said. "It's a big advantage, only having to win three games instead of four. I'm not sure anybody would want to have to do that so we are going to do whatever we can to get that two seed.
"…We are just going to worry about what we can control, just worrying about this next game against Mississippi State and just worry about that first and foremost," Clarke said.
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