Hogs Must Look Forward, Starting Today

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas has a shot at starting what could be an interesting run this afternoon in what should be a slam-dunker against Auburn in Bud Walton Arena.

If, that is, the Razorbacks finally are over the ref-lag of Wednesday night's super strange 66-63 overtime loss at LSU that dropped them to 1-4 in Southeastern Conference play.

Third-year Arkansas coach Stan Heath harped on the matter - Mike Jones' apparent 3-point game-winner being changed to a 2 - during Thursday's SEC coaches conference call and while addressing the local media.

Heath was out of bounds in hounding the officials mercilessly and constantly during last weekend's 25-point loss at No. 19 Mississippi State. His focus should've been on his players during timeouts rather than spending those crucial regrouping sessions lashing out at officials as former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson did so often.

But Heath was right to question the officials' post-regulation overruling and correct to discuss the issue with SEC Commissioner Mike Slive on Thursday.

The Hogs won't get anything out of it, of course, but Heath did the right thing in taking up for his team, especially since trail official John Hampton apparently lied to John Guthrie, the head of SEC officials, in saying he did not raise both hands to indicate Jones' shot as a 3-pointer.

Heck, Guthrie said Hampton should not have even been involved in the call, making him appear bafoonish as well as uncredible.

But the bottom line, Guthrie explained, is video evidence must prove conclusively that a 3-pointer definitely was a trey, and in Wednesday night's instance, it was too tough to tell if Jones' right foot did indeed slide back totally behind the 3-point line.

No matter how angering, and maybe unjust, that one's over. Been over three days.

Besides, as several Hogs and loads of Arkansas fans have pointed out, it should not have come down to that Jones jumper. Arkansas, looking much better with a shuffled starting lineup (Darian Townes for Steven Hill and Jones for Olu Famutimi), carved a late five-point lead and had solidly collared momentum. But the Hogs let both slip away with some lousy shot selections and an awful lack of rebounding.

If the Hogs still want so much as a sniff from the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee, they can't afford to let what should be an easy opportunity slip away today against a small 9-7 Auburn team that's winless in the SEC and led by first-year coach Jeff Lebo, who is so short-handed that he scrimmages with the Tigers.

But if the Hogs' heads still are in Baton Rouge, this could be trouble.

"We have a good challenge in getting our guys' juices flowing to play," Heath said. "I don't know if this is a must-win, but it's a key game.

"We will respond. We've talked to them. They feel like something was taken away from them.

"The players have to understand this is life. You're going to get some bad breaks in life. We felt like it was one play the referee decided.

"But there were a lot of other plays in that game."

If that point has hit home, the Hogs could - could, not should -regain some lost ground quickly.

After a win today, Arkansas has a week to prepare for next weekend's home game against Kentucky. The Wildcats still are a big deal, but certainly not unbeatable, particularly if Arkansas fans are Hog-wild from the opening tip. Kentucky survived by only three points at not very good Ole Miss on Wednesday night, and while dingy Tad Smith Coliseum is a tough place to play, it's no Bud Walton Arena.

Should the Hogs net that one (in front of, by the way, a CBS national audience that likely will include lots of NCAA Tournament Selection Committee members ), they could be off and running toward a winnable game at South Carolina on Feb. 2, three days before another coin-tosser at Ole Miss.

Those are followed by home matchups against downtrodden Georgia and - insert drum roll here -LSU.

Arkansas somehow manages to win five of these next six (realistic if the Hogs turn a couple of corners) and the Hogs will be at 6-5 in the SEC and 19-6 overall heading into the home stretch.

This season, confounding in several ways, still can actually be salvaged.

If, that is, the Hogs are looking forward to finishing it right.

And not back at Baton Rouge.

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