OXFORD, Miss. - Two teams coming off disheartening losses with embattled coaches will hook up in Mississippi Saturday afternoon with win and place off the table and only show left to cash in.
Arkansas (18-11, 7-8) visits Ole Miss (18-12, 6-9) at 3:05 p.m. Saturday inside 45-year-old Tad Smith Coliseum with the victor getting the SEC West's third seed and the loser fourth in the league tournament.
Alabama and Mississippi State have already secured the West's two byes in the event while the Razorbacks are trying to finish at least .500 in SEC play for the first time since 2007-2008.
"As long as we've got time on the clock we are going to go do the best we can," Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey said. "I think it's really big. I want that eighth win. I want the 19th win overall. I think our players do, too. There is a difference who you play in the SEC Tournament."
Indeed the winner will open tournament play Thursday in Atlanta with East sixth seed South Carolina (14-14, 5-10) at 2:30 p.m. while the loser will face either Kentucky (20-9, 9-6), Georgia (21-8, 9-6) or Vanderbilt (21-8, 9-6) – all likely NCAA teams – at 6:30 later that same day.
Pelphrey's team could have clinched that bye and second seed with a home win over Mississippi State on Wednesday, but watched an 8-point second-half lead dissolve into an 88-78 loss.
He woke up the next morning to find an ad in a statewide paper basically calling for his ouster.
"My focus is my task at hand," Pelphrey said. "I'm the basketball coach at Arkansas. I wake up every day focused on leading those young men. Certainly, I know they were disappointed last night and a lot of those guys had family that saw them play for the first time in college and they wanted to win so bad.
"So, that's where my focus is, to help us learn from that experience last night and try to get us prepared to go win at Oxford," Pelphrey added.
Pelphrey was asked if he is frustrated that others can not see the progress he thinks his team has made from last season's 14-18 mark.
"I have not spent a tremendous amount of time on those things," Pelphrey said. "I'm well aware of the progress that some of our players have made. I'm well aware of some of the big games we've won, and I'm aware of the some of the other stuff, too."
Arkansas senior center Delvon Johnson said he is putting aside any criticism.
"I never once listen to what other people think about us or this team," Johnson said. "So, I mean it doesn't bother me. People can say what they want to say, but it is just us in that locker room. We're playing so they are just outside looking in. You can't worry about those things."
Ole Miss lost a 20-point lead at Auburn on Wednesday and fell 76-73 at the end.
That no doubt turned up the heat on head coach Andy Kennedy even more.
"I'm a big boy, I understand the reality," Kennedy told the Jackson-Clarion Ledger last month. "And I work at the discretion of my employer. I'm an employee of the University of Mississippi. When we get through with the season as with every year, I'll have an opportunity to speak with my employer with the future. But until then I don't want to spend a lot of time thinking about that because that's unfair to the kids that we're coaching."
Ole Miss has won six of seven and 18 of the last 26 games between the two, but Arkansas still leads the series 41-26.
That includes the Rebels' 69-60 win over the Razorbacks at Bud Walton Arena on Feb. 5 when they reeled off a 17-4 run late to take control of the game.
Ole Miss standout Chris Warren had 19 points and fellow senior guard Zach Graham 17 in that game while Reggie Buckner nearly had a triple-double with 11 points, 12 rebounds and 8 of his team's blocks.
Warren features a beard and 300 fake ones will be passed out to Ole Miss students for the game.
He is coming off a 3-of-16 shooting performance at Auburn, but Dundrecous Nelson had a career-high 30 points.
"Coming off a tough shooting game at Auburn you know that he is going to come back and be very, very focused and on edge," Pelphrey said.
Arkansas could be without starting point guard Jeff Peterson (pulled muscle) for a second straight game, but that will be a game-time decision.
Pelphrey expects to find Ole Miss ready to play as they try to send their seniors out on a winning note.
"Ole Miss is a good basketball team coming off a very tough loss and I am sure they are going to be very inspired for their Senior Day," Pelphrey said.
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