The Razorbacks will have a little help from their friends today when they try to stop their four-game losing streak.
After three road games in its last four and three versus teams currently or formerly in the Top 25, Arkansas (13-5, 1-4) plays its first home game in 11 days at 1 p.m. today in Bud Walton Arena against Auburn (9-7, 0-3).
"We've played such harsh competition," said sophomore Ronnie Brewer. "We've played on the road. We've taken our bumps and bruises. But we need to bounce back. It's time to play at home and you have to win at home."
Arkansas coach Stan Heath stopped short of calling the Razorbacks' game today a "must win," but the importance is clear.
After dropping four straight in the SEC to teams with a combined 11-5 record in league play, Arkansas now faces a team winless in conference and so short on depth former All-American North Carolina point guard and first-year coach Jeff Lebo has to play point guard on the scout team in practice.
"I know they are excited to get back home, and they are awfully tough to beat," Lebo said. "They seem to play -- like most people do -- a heck of a lot better at home. I like Arkansas's team."
The Razorbacks and Heath felt they were robbed of a win at LSU when one official called Mike Jones' final shot of regulation with Arkansas down 58-56 a 3-pointer and one called it a 2, leading to a video review and the subtraction of a point from the scoreboard.
The SEC issued a ruling on Friday stating the officials "miscommunicated" both with each other and with Heath after the shot, but Arkansas started forgetting about the disappointment on Thursday.
The Razorbacks responded from a 25-point tail-whipping by at Mississippi State last Saturday with a strong effort against LSU and Heath will call on all his youngsters' resolve to bounce back from their latest setback.
"I think these guys will respond," Heath said. "I know their hearts are a little broke and they feel like something was taken from them. It's a life lesson to overcome."
Lebo's team is learning its share of lessons this season with a five-guard lineup and no regular taller than 6-foot-6 Quinnel Brown.
The only player on the roster taller than Brown is 6-11 freshman center Ryan Daniel, who averages 3.8 minutes and less than a point and a rebound per game.
Four Auburn starters average double figures and the Tigers are fourth in the SEC in scoring with 77.3 points per game led by freshman Toney Douglas.
The 6-1, 190-pound Douglas already has four 30-point games in his young career after a Parade All-American career out of Jonesboro, Ga., and is leading the league in scoring at 19.8 points per game.
"He's the focal point of the scoring attack," Heath said. "All you can do is limit his touches, make him take tough shots and shoot a low percentage if you can."
Auburn is no easy out, as Florida and Ole Miss recently found out.
Douglas hit a 3-pointer to send the Tigers to overtime before losing 84-78 to the Gators on Jan. 12 and most recently Jan. 15, 79-72, to Ole Miss.
Despite their small stature, Auburn is leading the league (in conference games) in offensive rebounds with 14 per game and is ahead of much taller Arkansas in rebounding with 31 per game to the Razorbacks' 29.6.
With so many jumpers -- Auburn is averaging 25.6 3-point attempts per game -- the Tigers produce a lot of long rebounds and they do a good job running down loose balls.
"When the ball is going in the basket for us on the offensive end, we will have a chance," Lebo said. "Our kids have battled hard and found ways to win and overcome a lot of obstacles and hurdles, but once we got into league play, we have struggled a little bit making the plays when we needed to."
Arkansas has had their problems with teams of all sizes outhustling them on the glass this season.
LSU was simply much bigger with 6-9, 320-pound freshman Glen "Big Baby" Davis grabbing a career-high 18 to lead a 42-29 rebounding edge for the Tigers.
Rebounding and free throw shooting are the two areas Arkansas has consistently struggled this season (11 of 19 at LSU), but the Razorbacks' defense reappeared after allowing its previous three opponents to shoot 48 percent or better.
LSU shot 36.7 percent from the floor, 5 of 20 from the 3-point line and the Razorbacks scored 21 points off 15 turnovers.
Arkansas effectively used a 3-2 zone most of the way against LSU and Heath said his team won't necessarily abandon it against Auburn despite the Tigers' preponderance of guards and reliance on outside shooting.
Heath is not a fan of using zone defenses, but it stemmed the steady stream of easy baskets by Mississippi State and forced LSU to use the entire shot clock several times to get a shot off.
"Our zone has been pretty good," Heath said. "One thing I get alarmed at is that it's a good defense for us but we become a little passive. I like our team to be aggressive. It's working against the right teams, it's healthy, we'll look at it.
"But I want our team to have a lot of energy and passion, fight, grit and determination in this game. The defense for that is man. I don't want us to be a laid-back team sitting in a zone all day long."
Heath started Jones, Charles Thomas, Darian Townes, Brewer and Eric Ferguson against LSU and he said Thursday his decision to keep the starting lineup open for competition is still in effect even though the Razorbacks have ditched their blue and green practice gear.
Heath said he'll continue to trim his rotation and said practice and game performance will continue to dictate who starts, which could change on a game to game basis.
"I could see us having somewhat of a shifting lineup," he said. "But if we get on a roll with a group of guys, I could see us rolling with that a little bit. I could see us having eight guys who can rotate in the starting group."
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