Was This The Start Of A Streak?

FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas postgame lockerrooms had been morgue-like for three weeks.

During that span, the sometimes lifeless Razorbacks dropped four straight games and completely off the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee's radar, a screening process that could again include Arkansas.

So what was it like in the Hogs' dressing room after Saturday's 95-59 slam-dunk of Auburn?

Business as usual.

"I'm not going to celebrate too much," said Hogs freshman center Darian Townes, who had 13 points and 5 rebounds. "We need to build off this win we got."

Next chance to slide another brick over this is against No. 8 Kentucky, here next Saturday.

Asked if he already had looked ahead at the Wildcats, third-year Arkansas coach Stan Heath couldn't hold back the grin.

"I've probably been looking at Kentucky for a little while," Heath said. "You know, we didn't want to look past this game at all, but Kentucky's always one of those teams that, you know, you do put an ‘X' on your calendar for. They are awfully good. A very good basketball team.

"But this is a great opportunity for us. And we're at the stage of our careers now where, you know, playing close isn't good enough. We want to win. We want to win a big game."

Told the Wildcats don't seem unbeatable, Arkansas sophomore swingman Olu Famutimi did not hesitate: "No. We're going to have to play real hard against Kentucky and we're looking forward to winning against Kentucky next weekend.

"We feel we can beat Kentucky because they're coming over here."

Desperately needing a win, especially at home against overmatched Auburn, which was winless in the Southeastern Conference, Arkansas used a late first-half surge (from 36-33 to 45-33 at intermission) to run away from the constant-motion Tigers in front of 19,162 in Bud Walton Arena.

"We couldn't lose this game," Townes said.

Said Arkansas sophomore guard Ronnie Brewer, who paced the Hogs with 23 points, 7 rebounds, 4 steals and 3 assists: "Coach Heath was talking about getting on a winning streak, and it's got to start somewhere. It started tonight."

This hardly was a tall order for Arkansas (14-5, 2-4 in the SEC). But, sure as first-half Auburn 3-point shootin' (7 of 16), it was a quick one.

And despite sporting a roster believed to be the smallest in Division I (tallest two players are 6-foot-6, an inch shorter than Arkansas' Brewer), the Tigers got off to an awful fast start on Saturday.

Auburn came in leading the SEC in 3-pointers taken and made, and it didn't take long to see why. Two Nathan Watson treys cut Arkansas' lead to 7-6, and another, this one by Quinnel Brown, gave the Tigers a 12-10 lead.

Two 3-pointers by Ian Young pushed the Tigers up 18-12 and you could've heard a ticket drop in hushed Bud Walton Arena.

"It was a tough matchup," said Arkansas junior guard Eric Ferguson. "They play nothing but guards, and that's tough for our big men. And then we mixed our defense up – little man, little zone."

Said Townes: "It kind of hurt my personal side. Coach called timeout, talked to us and we took what he said and took it out there."

After a Famutimi to Mike Jones inside play gave Arkansas a 26-25 lead, Young's trey from the right baseline pushed Auburn back up 28-26. Frank Tolbert's trey tied this at 31-all.

At that point, Arkansas exploded against the pesky, relentless, fast-forward Tigers, who look lots better than their 9-8 record or this score would indicate.

Famutimi's 3-pointer from the right baseline was followed by two Townes free throws for 36-31. After a pair of Young free throws, the Hogs went on a 9-point run.

Brewer canned a jumper from near the free-throw line, then put back a Townes miss as the crowd finally got into this.

After Young stood at halfcourt, clapping, flexing and yelling at his troubled teammates, Townes hit Jones for another point-blanker. Two Brewer free throws with 5 seconds left put the Hogs up 45-33, and the second half was nothing more than run and fun.

"They're a very, very talented team," said first-year Auburn coach Jeff Lebo. "They have a lot of very good players. We were a little bit in shock."

This was a must-win for Arkansas and it could signal a corner-turning of sorts.

"Yeah, we're looking at it like that," Ferguson said. "We're just going to keep working hard this week and correct our mistakes. Got to keep getting better this week."

The Hogs have almost a week to prepare for Kentucky before doable games the following week at South Carolina and at Ole Miss.

Arkansas then hosts Georgia and LSU, two matchups the Hogs are more than capable of winning.

"If I were looking at the schedule, it's more favorable now than it was at the early part. There's no question about that," Heath said. "But that doesn't mean going to South Carolina is going to be an easy game.

"I think with our team, we're good at refocusing on the opponent, taking care of business and building momentum into the next game. So that's what we want to try to do now, build off this win against Auburn. Use the time very wisely.

"We've got to do a good job as coaches of putting a plan together to make sure we stay on course of where we are right now."

No, now is not the time to get carried away. After all, the Hogs were expected to beat Auburn soundly and they could have knocked off No. 22 Alabama here (a 64-61 loss on Jan. 11) and should have won at LSU (a controversial 66-63 overtime loss because a game-winning Jones 3-pointer was changed to a 2) on Wednesday night.

But if Arkansas is to make a move – any sort of move – toward NCAA Tournament consideration, the time is now.

"Yeah, I was looking at the schedule (Friday) night," Townes said. "We've got our confidence up and now we've got to play real hard against Kentucky. That would be a big win, a major win. That would bring our heads back up.

"But we're still in a dogfight, we're not out of it.

"We're going to come hard."








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