Arkansas, Florida Set For SEC Tournament Test

Arkansas (16-15, 9-9) - winners of four of its last five games - and Florida (18-13, 9-9) - losers of four of its last five contests - will meet Thursday at noon at the SEC Tournament in Nashville with both knowing their only path to the Big Dance is to win it all this week.

Arkansas head basketball coach Mike Anderson is hoping that Saturday’s disappointing home loss to South Carolina was an outlier instead of the start of a short-lived trend.

Ninth-seeded Arkansas (16-15, 9-9) has to put a 76-61 home loss in the rearview mirror as it prepares to face eighth-seeded Florida (18-13, 9-9) Thursday at noon in the SEC Tournament.

The two teams played earlier this season with the Gators edging the Razorbacks 87-83 in Gainesville. 

“We are playing well,” Anderson said of his team that had won four straight going into Saturday’s game. “I really do think we are playing well. That’s why I made sure to remind our guys after the game the other night, the Senior Night, you never know how those are going to go.

“South Carolina came in and they were the better team that day but when you look at it, what has taken place in the last few ball games, we have had a nice rhythm. Our bench has played well, the guys starting out the game have played well.

“So we have been able to mix and match our defenses to keep people off balance. And so we have got to get back to that. As we go into this game here, everything is on the line now. So it’s like there is no tomorrow.” 

That’s especially the case in terms of the NCAA Tournament for the Razorbacks and Gators, who had lost four straight before winning at Missouri on Saturday night. 

The only way either team likely gets to the Big Dance is if it wins the tournament.

“This a new season now,” Anderson said. “So the automatic qualifier for the NCAA comes from the SEC Tournament so we are looking forward to playing against a Florida team that we played earlier in the year in a game that kind of went back and forth played at Florida.

“It is on a neutral setting and it opens up the SEC  (Tournament on Thursday) so hopefully we can come out and play at a high level.” 

Florida first-year head coach Michael White is happy to be going into the tournament with a win. 

“It’s a lot better going into it with a win than vice-versa,” White said. “And… to stop the bleeding and get back on the right side of the win-loss column.

“Also just to keep things in perspective, I have been a part of situations where you lose four in a row and you feel you are just playing awful or you lose four in a row and you feel like you have played great, you are just not that good. With us it’s right down the middle.”

Florida lost at South Carolina and at LSU before losing at home to Vanderbilt and Kentucky.

“I don’t think we need to apologize to anybody,” White said. “It’s a hard league. We are not an overpowering team. We were competitive against those four.

“It’s just the nature of college basketball sometimes.  In elite leagues, night in and night out, you are paired up with some of the best teams in the country. We happen to be paired up with four tough ones here, a very tough stretch for us. 

“Unfortunately we just didn’t take advantage. You steal one or two of those we would be sitting here in an unbelievable situation.”

The winner of Thursday’s Arkansas-Florida game will play top-seeded Texas A&M Friday at noon.

The Razorbacks split their two games with the Aggies this season while A&M downed visiting Florida in the two team’s only meeting.

“Its a big opportunity for us,” White said. “I think it is for every team in the SEC Tournament. Arkansas has had a really solid season. In my opinion they have improved a lot throughout the year.

“They are very good defensively. They are really good offensively. They are very difficult to defend. The combination of Jabril Durham putting pressure on defenses making terrific decisions and two of the best shooters in our league in (Anthlon) Bell and (Dusty) Hannahs and Moses Kingsley is one of the best centers in our league and on of the most improved players probably in all of college basketball.

“They are a team that has done a very good job of continuing to improve and take advantage of opportunities. They’re a team we were fortunate to beat here in Gainesville.

“We never seemed to be able to get in to a defensive rhythm against a team that we have a lot of respect for. It’s a game that we have to do a very good job of preparations for this week.”

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