Not only are the defending SEC Champion Bulldogs (14-3, 2-1) rallying around the loss of senior Winsome Frazier and coming off the end of their 16-game road winning streak Wednesday at Tennessee, but Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville is no place for the faint of heart.
Coach Stan Heath has already warned his freshman "The Hump" is an even tougher environment than the O'Connell Center at Florida where Arkansas (13-3, 1-2) wilted under the pressure from the Gators and their home crowd in its 82-74 loss a week ago.
"Coach said they're double hostile down there in Starkville," said freshman center Darian Townes. "We just have to keep our heads right and try to get the W."
Snapping their streak of road futility and a two-game skid in SEC play after winning their home opener 69-46 against Ole Miss on Jan. 5 will require some rapid maturation from the Razorbacks against the wounded but proud Bulldogs trying to avoid their first two-game losing streak since 2003.
In its 64-61 loss to No. 23 Alabama on Tuesday in Fayetteville, Arkansas suffered through a nine-minute scoring drought between the first and second halves, opening door for the Crimson Tide to make a 15-0 run and reverse a nine-point deficit.
Arkansas had problems with its halfcourt offense in its last two losses and to a large extent, in its win against Ole Miss.
At Florida, the Razorbacks allowed a 6-0 run to start the game, a 7-0 run after taking an 18-15 lead and a 15-0 run in the second half to fall behind 57-40.
Bad shot selection and inconsistent looks inside to the red-hot Townes on Tuesday doomed the Razorbacks and their defense continued to allow far too many easy baskets.
The Gators and Crimson Tide shot 59 and 54 percent, respectively, against Arkansas, which came into league play leading the conference in field goal defense at 37 percent allowed.
The Razorbacks weren't calling out screens or switching and sophomore Ronnie Brewer said they made "a lot" of mental mistakes.
Arkansas struggled on the boards against Alabama, failed to get downcourt on its transition defense after long rebounds off the Razorbacks' hurried shots and allowed Alabama to score several times on inbounds plays, including one the Razorbacks run themselves and see every day.
Even with all its mistakes, an Eric Ferguson 3-pointer could have sent Arkansas into overtime.
"I thought we had significant slippage," Heath said. "Normally you have a little from practice to games, but we had significant slippage in that game. I don't know why. We cover baseline out of bounds all the time. We go over it. One of the plays we got beat on is the same play we run.
"We guard it every day in practice and all of a sudden we defend it the wrong way in a game."
Heath said part of the problem is his team has become "a little selfish defensively."
"We're so concerned about our own guy we end up getting screened," he said. "Instead of defending the screen the way we practice, we try to fight through and we get picked off easier."
Arkansas may also go to some zone defense today to stop the bleeding of layups and dunks coming far too regularly out of opponents' halfcourt offense.
Heath also said Arkansas was a little selfish in its halfcourt offense by not sticking with Townes, who scored six straight points to tie the score at 16 and didn't get another touch in the first half.
Townes scored the rest of his 14 points in a similar stretch in the second half to pull Arkansas within a point twice, but the ball again went elsewhere, leaving him pointing furiously at the wing for an entry pass and rolling his eyes when the ball went the other way.
"Utilize the player who's got the hot hand," Heath said. "If we got a matchup that's working, let's ride it out a little longer. Let's not figure out, 'Well, I haven't taken a shot the last three trips, it's my turn.' We have to look at what's working for us and stick with it a lot longer."
Brewer said Arkansas was "in a hurry" to put Alabama away after getting up 33-24 with 4:21 to go before halftime.
"We have to handle the emotional side of the game," Heath said. "We get so fired up when we make a nice run, sometimes we forget what was working for us. We got away from getting the ball inside, and we were very much in a rush to get a shot. I've got to believe we've learned that lesson."
It's not likely the Razorbacks will be in position to run away today against Mississippi State, which hasn't lost two straight games in the regular season since back-to-back road defeats to Tennessee and Arkansas in 2003.
Arkansas made a 12-4 run against Alabama to take its largest lead keyed off turnovers, fast-break layups and alley-oop dunks, something Mississippi State must avoid today, said coach Rick Stansbury.
"They're very good with their pressure and halfcourt traps and if you're turning the basketball over against them and they're running in transition, they're as good as anybody in the league," Stansbury said. "They have a lot of weapons and they're a very versatile basketball team."
Arkansas hasn't won in "The Hump" since 2000, losing four games since by an average of 16 points.
First and foremost will be containing senior preseason All-American and 2004 SEC Player of the Year Lawrence Roberts, who is averaging 19 points and 11.3 rebounds per game to lead the league's top rebounding team (43.5 per game).
Roberts had 22 points and 13 rebounds against Tennessee on Wednesday and drew 11 fouls on Vols post players Brandon Crump, Andre Patterson and Major Wingate. Roberts has made 67.6 percent of his league-high 145 free throw attempts.
Townes, fellow freshmen Steven Hill and Charles Thomas and junior Rashard Sullivan will have their hands full with Roberts, who runs the floor well, gets to his favorite spots and often releases his shot before the double team arrives.
He is relentless on the glass and gets to his own missed shots quicker than his defenders.
The freshmen and Sullivan aren't likely to get the benefit of any calls against Roberts, so keeping their hands up and denying the basketball will be key.
Limiting complimentary players like seniors Shane Power and Ontario Harper, sophomore point guard Gary Ervin and junior transfer guard Jamall Edmonson will have to offset what Roberts will get.
"The more we keep the ball out of his hands, the better off we're going to be," Heath said. "Once he gets it, force him to make tough shots. Try not to give him the angles, the avenues to get in close to draw and-ones. That's easier said than done."
Just like winning at "The Hump."
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