A New Beginning

Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson and LSU bench boss Trent Johnson talked Wednesday about their hopes for SEC Tournament, which begins Thursday with the Razorbacks (18-13, 6-10) and Tigers (17-13, 7-9) tangling at noon.

Both Arkansas and LSU know that the loser of today's noon SEC Tournament opener in New Orleans is most likely packing up the equipment.

That's what happens when you skid to the finish line as both the ninth-seeded Razorbacks (18-13, 6-10) and eighth-seeded Tigers (17-13, 7-9) have done.

"Obviously it's a time of the year where the records are 0-0 and everyone's trying to get that automatic bid to the NCAA tournament," Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson said Wednesday at a pre-tournament press conference. "So the SEC tournament is a huge, huge event for all the teams that are involved in it."

The two teams split during the regular season with the Razorbacks winning 69-60 in Fayetteville and the Tigers taking a 71-65 decision in Baton Rouge.

"We split, so it should be I think a competitive game, where guys are going to get out there and leave it on the line," Anderson said. "Right now it's a one-game season and we know that. And I'm sure all the teams in here know that. So we'll come out and hopefully put one of our better performances together.

"This is when you want to get on a run and play some of your best basketball," Anderson said. "We have had periods during the year, and hopefully this will be an opportunity we can really put some things together."

LSU was pushing for a possible fourth seed and first-day bye in the event before head coach Trent Johnson's squad lost three straight, including 67-52 humbling at Auburn last Saturday.

"Well, what a difference two weeks makes for us," Johnson said. "Obviously the last two weeks haven't been very good in terms of us being able to play well, but we're looking forward to a new season. And this is a fresh start for be us.

"So we play a very, very good Arkansas team that is very well coached by Mike Anderson and causes a lot of problems if you don't handle their pressure," Johnson said. "But again, we're looking forward to the challenge tomorrow."

The Razorbacks are led by freshman guard B.J. Young (15.2). He was named a second-team All-SEC selection by the coaches and also to the league's All-Freshman squad on Tuesday.

Young is excited about a chance to start over for his team, which was 16-6 after beating Vanderbilt 82-74 at home on Jan. 31 and then lost 7 of its last 9 games.

"It's a great opportunity for our team and it's new life," Young said. "And the style of play we play, we can beat anybody and we can jump out to early leads and just control the game from there. So that's what we're going to try to do, start fast and just take control of the game."

Arkansas sophomore guard Mardracus Wade – the SEC's leading 3-point shooter at 47 percent – said he believes in his team despite the recent struggles.

"I believe in this team, this style of play, I believe in the coaching staff, and I believe in each and everyone of us," Wade said. " We go in and work hard every day and we practice how we play. And I just have just a belief in these guys that now that they know it's 0-0 coming into this tournament, they're a little more hungry, and they want to win. I'm excited for my team and we are anxious to get out there and show the world what we can do."

Freshman guard Anthony Hickey, who was also a second-team All-League and All-Freshman team selection, has sparked the Tigers this season.

"We feel pretty confident," Hickey said. "Everybody getting their confidence back. Everybody pumped up. We're more hungry for the wins. And we got a big making up to do and we're going to own up to what we need to do as a team."

LSU's campus is only 80 miles away from The Superdome, which could give them a home-court advantage, but not one that Johnson is buying.

"I said it before, don't matter where you play, who you play, when you play," Johnson said. "If we're not mentally tough and we're not mentally right, like I think we will be, you're going to struggle. So but, no, I don't get caught up in all that."

Wade doesn't view it as a home court advantage for the Tigers.

"Not at all," Wade said. "This is on a neutral floor and anything can happen. And we just come in just feel like this is our house. No matter where we play, when we play on the road, we feel like this is our house. And we got to go in tomorrow and play like this is Bud Walton Arena or any other place, and I think if we can come in and play like that, we can come in and get a W."

"I think in this particular game I think our defense is going to have to be the difference," Anderson said. "I think it's energy and defense right now. We got to be able to rebound the basketball. I thought at their place, they did a good job of controlling the glass, especially in the second half. We had some unforced turnovers where there would be charges or just playing in a big hurry."

Junior guard Julysess Nobles injured his ankle in Arkansas' 79-59 loss at Mississippi State. He did practice on Wednesday.

"He kind of tweaked his ankle in the last game at Mississippi State and hadn't practiced the last two days," Anderson said. "So it will be interesting to see how we come out. But I still like the mindset of our guys. I think there's no quit in them. I think they're continuing to work hard and I think defensively we will be a lot better in this tournament."

Anderson was asked about his thoughts on any post-season play besides the SEC Tournament.

"Well, that's what this tournament is all about," Anderson said. "It's about trying to survive each game and get through it. And the automatic bid goes to the winner of this tournament. But we want to play some good basketball I think more than anything else. Try to improve upon what we have done this year, in this particular game."

He is just concentrating on the first game of the event.

"We're getting ready to face an LSU team that they're hungry, we're hungry, so we'll play the first game of the tournament," Anderson said. "There's a lot of unknowns because you never know how your players are going to come out. That's the interesting thing about the first game in a tournament for any team. You don't know the psyche of your team, but I like how our guys are approaching this."


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