Eye On The Tigers

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Arkansas' start at No. 17 Mississippi State on Saturday was a microcosm of its three-season road struggles.

After a Ronnie Brewer layup made it 3-2, MSU, the Bulldogs went on an 18-0 run to essentially win the game in the first nine minutes, handing Arkansas an embarrassing 80-55 loss.

The Razorbacks suffered through a 15-0 run over nine minutes between the first and second halves against No. 22 Alabama last Tuesday and a 12-0 run at Florida three days earlier.

Against Alabama, a nine-point lead turned into a six-point deficit and a 64-61 home loss. At Florida, a five-point Gators lead turned into a rout in four minutes, and the Razorbacks' desperate push to within six in the last minute was too little, too late during the 82-74 setback.

Arkansas coach Stan Heath said the Razorbacks' current 0 of 11 streak on the Southeastern Conference road is no different than the droughts his team has endured lately, and it must be stopped tonight when Arkansas (13-4, 1-3 SEC) plays LSU (8-5, 1-1) in the Maravich Assembly Center.

"It's a run that needs to be squelched," said Heath, who has a 1-17 SEC road record at Arkansas since taking over in 2002.

Heath took away his team's red and white practice jerseys, the ones that signify first- and second-teamers, replacing them with noncommittal blue and green on Sunday after declaring the contest to become tonight's starters was "wide-open."

Arkansas has not come close to responding to the emotional challenges of the SEC road, and Heath wants the intensity seen in practices to carry over into the games.

"The thing that bums me out about these guys is they will beat the crap out of each other at practice," Heath said. "Then when they get in the game it's like, 'I'm going to be nice to this guy over here I don't even know.'

"That's what frustrates me."

LSU assistant Butch Pierre, filling in for habitually absent Tigers head coach John Brady during Monday's first of two weekly SEC coaches conference calls, said Arkansas' recent struggles aren't unusual for a young team entering SEC play.

"They've played some tough games early on," Pierre said. "Arkansas is a very good basketball team. (Heath) is primarily trying to win his home games and get into postseason play."

If Arkansas wants to make the NCAA Tournament its postseason destination rather than the NIT, the Razorbacks will have to squelch the road losing streak that dates to a 69-54 loss at Auburn on March 5, 2003.

Arkansas led at Alabama, at Auburn, at Tennessee and at Ole Miss at halftime last season and was tied, 49-all, at LSU with 6:49 to play before allowing a 15-0 run to close out that game.

"There were runs in those games it's taken us too long to bust out of," Heath said. "And we're not doing a good enough job when we make our runs to sustain them even longer."

Brewer, who had a season-low 7 points on Saturday, said frustration has been a factor, but the Razorbacks are trying to learn from their road woes.

"Any team gets frustrated whenever you lose, especially as many games as we've lost in a row," he said. "We were just speeding ourselves up (on Saturday). We weren't being very smart. We were taking quick shots and sort of letting their crowd take us out of the game and put pressure on us.

"The way we need to go is to slow down and do the things we've been doing. Run our sets, play solid defense and create turnovers that lead to easy baskets."

After its 69-46 conference-opening win against Ole Miss, Arkansas has seen its steady stream of easy baskets dry to a trickle while being outrebounded by more than six per game and allowing its last three opponents to shoot 48 percent or better from the field.

For the most part, Arkansas' last three opponents have forced the Razorbacks into a halfcourt game, and the Hogs have either missed easy shots from midrange and in the paint or lost their patience and fired too many long jumpers.

The Razorbacks' press hasn't forced as many turnovers with so few opportunities to set up because of offensive struggles, making easy buckets from offensive rebounds and fastbreak points off defensive boards even more important.

Arkansas' veteran perimeter players took 55 of the Razorbacks' 69 shots against while freshman post players Darian Townes, Steven Hill and Charles Thomas were dominated at both ends by Mississippi State All-American forward Lawrence Roberts and center Marcus Campbell.

The Razorbacks are at the end of a four-game stretch against the SEC's top big men, including Florida's David Lee, Alabama's Jermareo Davidson, Kennedy Winston and Chuck Davis and Mississippi State's tandem.

Tonight it will be 6-foot-8 sophomore Brandon Bass, last season's SEC Freshman of The Year, and 6-9 Glen "Big Baby" Davis, a 320-plus pound freshman forward.

"They've been baptized, that's for sure," said Heath of his freshman group.

"They've had a little more than they could handle at this particular time. It was an eye-opening experience. That's an area we've been getting dominated (in) the most. It's no different in this game.

"It's just so ironic. That's where we're least experienced at and we're probably playing the more experienced post players early in this race."

The inexperience showed in the lack of transition defense at Mississippi State and was the greatest source of frustration for Heath.

Time and again, Townes or Hill would allow Campbell to gallop downcourt all the way to the block, where he consistently caught the ball and scored in the Hogs' faces (15 points in 19 minutes).

"We practice meeting the post player at the free-throw line all the time," Heath said. "Our younger guys were meeting them at the rim. That's not a good place to meet Marcus Campbell."

Heath's guards didn't stop speedy MSU sophomore point guard Gary Ervin quickly enough, either. He routinely got into the paint and either scored or kicked out for assists.

Those are the sort of things Heath wants to see from his team, stating tonight.

"You want movement, you want touches, you want screens, the execution becomes important," Heath said. "We still need the balance (of) playing inside and off the post."

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