An Arkansas team trying to hold on tight to some momentum and an Auburn squad looking to turn its season around quickly will clash tonight at 7 p.m. in a non-televised game at Beard-Eaves Coliseum.
Both the Razorbacks (9-6, 1-3) and the Tigers (10-5, 1-3) have been up -and-down this season and the two teams tied for fourth in the SEC's Western Division are both looking for some consistency.
Arkansas comes in off an 86-78 home win over Ole Miss while Auburn is reeling with consecutive losses to visiting South Carolina (53-51 in overtime) and on the road to archrival Alabama (69-46).
"You hope the leadership on your team makes sure you're ready to play," Razorback head coach Stan Heath said. "We've had a tendency to play well at home and then not play well on the road, but we've played and won on the road. We've played in front of some big crowds on the road. We know Auburn will be aggressive and hungry."
Arkansas, who won just one road game last season, is 1-2 away from home this season. The win came at Tulsa and losses at Illinois (84-61) and at Alabama (81-65).
The Razorbacks didn't play well in either half against Illinois, but led at intermission at Alabama before putting forth a horrible second-half effort.
"We're still trying to find the right combinations of guys to play at the right times," Heath said. "We're still looking to get better and improve. We need to be ready to defend. Saturday was a step in the right direction."
Auburn head coach Cliff Ellis, whose NCAA-bound team whipped Arkansas twice last year during the Razorbacks' 9-19 campaign, sees improvement from the visitors who are scoring 12 more points per game this season.
Of course it had to get better than the dismal game in which the Tigers won 52-37 at Fayetteville last year while also winning 69-54 at Auburn later in the season.
"Every guy that they put on the floor is a threat now," Ellis said. " I am impressed with the skill level. They are a young team, but certainly when you look at all these guys, they were very highly-rated going into this Arkansas program. I think right now they are just young, but they are a skilled team."
While Heath has challenged his team to get tougher, Ellis expects to see a physical bunch of Razorbacks.
"They play hard," Ellis said. "It is normally a physical game when you play Arkansas. I think it is going to be important that our basketball team gets ready to play some physical basketball because I think that is going to be the type of game that it is."
Most observers might think it to be the other way around since Auburn has a powerful front line with 6-7, 235-pound forward Marco Killingsworth (14.5, 6.4), 6-8, 215-pound junior Brandon Robinson (12.6, 7.5) and 6-10, 235-pound senior Kyle Davis (8.5, 7.9).
It is their guard play that has been the downfall this season, not the play of the big guys up front.
"Auburn is a good team," Heath said. "They have an awesome front line. Kyle Davis just broke a blocked shot record, and they also have Marco Killingsworth and Brandon Robinson. Brandon Robinson didn't play much in their last game, but we expect him to play against us. If we allow them to go inside, and post up and play physical, it could be a long night. We have to take that away from them."
Arkansas will try to do that by playing a zone, a defense the Razorbacks used a trio of ways and that was effective against Ole Miss and one that Alabama used with success against Auburn.
"We've been working on one all year," Heath said. The other two, we just put in. We still have a lot of work to do to make it as good as it can be. The players have to understand where to be and the areas to cover. We'll get better at it."
It would be a much easier chore if Robinson, who injured his ankle against Alabama, doesn't play or isn't his normal active self.
"It's not broken," Ellis said. " He re-aggravated it. In watching the film, as he went up, he landed on a guy's foot and re-aggravated the injury. He's not healthy, but it's not broken. He just has to continue rehab and see if we can keep it from being aggravated anymore."
Arkansas has a similar player to Robinson in 6-10, 195-pound freshman Vincent Hunter, who showed his was fully healthy physically and mentally from a shoulder injury with 14 points, 9 rebounds and much energy brought to the table against Ole Miss.
"We needed that," Heath said. " We need to get one or two others heading in the same direction. To have five guys in double figures and to out-rebound Ole Miss was really positive. Vincent Hunter was a catalyst with his rebounding in the first half. He also stepped up there and made his free throws (12-of-14)."
Heath said Hunter does not want to start so Arkansas will likely open with 6-4 sophomore guard Jonathon "Pookie" Modica (18.0, 4.3), 6-7 freshman guard Ronnie Brewer (12.9, 6.5), 6-1 sophomore guard Eric Ferguson (9.5), 6-8 senior forward Billy Pharis (8.8) and 6-8, 235-pound sophomore forward Rashard Sullivan (1.6, 3.7).
Ferguson led the way against Ole Miss with 19 points.
"I've told Eric, Ronnie Brewer and Jonathon Modica they have to shoulder more of the load," Heath said. "They are the catalysts for this team. If one of them takes the night off, we have problems. If two of them take the night off, we have a major problem. If all three take the night off, we have no chance."
Arkansas hopes to keep Auburn skidding
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