Close But No Cigars For Hogs

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - All about Coleman Coliseum, signs implored Alabama fans to wear white during the Feb. 26 home game against Kentucky to "help us win."

For quite some time, it looked as though the Crimson Tide should not have looked past Wednesday night's matchup against this suddenly hot Arkansas team.

By the time the Razorbacks walked off the Coleman Coliseum floor with a 34-33 halftime lead against No. 16 Alabama, Crimson Tide fans -- and Alabama coach Mark Gottfried -- were seeing red.

Alabama turned up the heat in the second half, tossing a zone at the Hogs that slowed their momentum during the Crimson Tide's 72-63 win. For good measure, they threw a press at Arkansas that befuddled the young Hogs into three crucial second-half turnovers, two in succession.

Asked what Gottfried said to them at halftime, Kennedy Winston, Chuck Davis, Evan Brock and Earnest Shelton looked away and giggled.

We got the message.

So, too, did the Crimson Tide.

"The press and the zone worked well and it changed things up on them," Shelton said. "I think it took them off-guard. They were running great offense, but they got a little bit stagnant.

"It made them have a tougher time scoring and harder for them to get the ball to their big men."

Arkansas coach Stan Heath, who had led the Hogs (17-8, 5-7 in the Southeastern Conference) to three consecutive wins before this, said he had worked through situational things with his players as he anticipated some Alabama zone.

So he was stunned the Hogs zoned out.

"That's a long, athletic zone," Heath said. "But I was really surprised because we've done a lot better against teams that have zoned us. For whatever reason, it just didn't happen tonight.

"I know our players felt like we kind of let the game slip away. We've got to do a better job of adjusting, and that's a little bit of youth."

This is the fourth consecutive season for Arkansas to lose here. Coleman Coliseum is a tough place to win and the Hogs have been blown away from the get-go the last three times here.

Wednesday night was a different deal, although it started about like the last few.

While Arkansas missed some close shots and turned the ball over with alarming regularity, Alabama (20-4, 9-2) played with pep, taking a 15-5 lead. Just seven minutes into this, Heath had called two timeouts.

But the Hogs battled back, attacking Alabama's man-to-man with purpose. A Jonathon  Modica 3-pointer cut a 28-16 deficit to 28-19 with 6:32 to go in the first half.

Ronnie Brewer slapped the ball from Jermareo Davidson, then zipped it to Modica for a layup and 28-21. Another Modica trey brought Arkansas within 28-24, and Brewer's jumper from the top cut it to 28-26.

After a Kennedy Winston inside move made it 30-26, Eric  Ferguson answered with a high-archer from the right baseline.

An Olu Famutimi 3-pointer from the top right cut it to 33-31, and Ferguson's trey from the top with 1:14 left gave Arkansas the 34-33 lead that stood up until halftime.

"They're quick, and we didn't do a real good job of containing them. We were having a hard time half-court guarding them in the first half," said Gottfried, who was particularly disturbed that the Hogs nailed 6 of 10 treys.

They missed all seven of their second-half attempts.

"I like our zone," Gottfried said.

Clearly, the Hogs didn't.

But they wouldn't quit. Famutimi's drive gave Arkansas a 39-37 lead before the bottom fell out against Alabama's press.

Still, the Hogs kept coming. A Darian Townes turnaround jumper cut Alabama's lead to 48-44.

With Arkansas trailing 69-61 with less than 50 seconds left, Heath still was standing, directing his defense with his voice and arms. After Townes scored on a goaltending call against the Crimson Tide with 23 second left for 70-63, Heath kept coaching.

"I thought the effort was definitely there with our ballclub," Heath said.

Alabama's Shelton, a senior guard, said the Hogs impressed him more this time than during the Crimson Tide's 64-61 win in Fayetteville on Jan. 11.

"I feel like they're getting better," Shelton said. "They're turning into a really good team. They played really good tonight. They hit shots, made plays and did everything they needed to do to win tonight.

"You've got to give them credit. They're becoming a really good team."

Asked if Arkansas took him off-guard by hanging with Alabama here, Winston didn't hesitate.

"Not really," he said. "They're playing really well lately. They really came in and challenged us.

"They made us buckle down and do what we had to do."

Alabama has won all 12 games here and only the early-season 75-71 win against Temple was under eight points.

"That's a team right there -- Alabama -- that's going to have a lot of success in the postseason," Heath said.

Arkansas needed this, but NCAA Tournament bubble thoughts have not yet popped, although the Hogs probably need to win all of these: at Vanderbilt, against Tennessee, against Mississippi State and at Auburn.

"We needed a (win) like this against a team that's ranked on the road," Heath said. "It would've done a lot for us, and we played with that kind of effort to get it.

"There's still a lot of basketball to be played and still a lot of teams on our schedule we can take care of. That (NCAA Tournament) door might still open up for us."

On Wednesday, for the first time in a long time, the Hogs banged on Coleman Coliseum's doors.

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