Because it didn't start or finish fast in either half on Saturday, the University of Arkansas' quest to finish the season in the Big Dance is slowly slipping away.
Freshman Shan Foster hit 5 3-pointers and had 25 points and Mario Moore added 20 points (10-of-10 free throw shooting) and a career-high 13 assists as Vanderbilt whipped visiting Arkansas 79-65 before 13,577 at Memorial Coliseum in Nashville.
Ronnie Brewer had 20 points and Jonathon Modica and Olu Famutimi had 10 each to lead Arkansas (17-9, 5-8), who now must win its remaining three conference games to get to the .500 mark in league action.
But it was the lack of defense intensity, something that led to 12 Vandy 3-pointers, that was foremost in Razorback head coach Stan Heath's postgame remarks.
"We really needed to step it up on the defensive end," Heath said. "We hit 50 percent from the field and that's a great number to have on the road. We hit 40 percent of our threes and 71 percent from the free throw line. But on that defensive end, that's the tradeoff. If you play Vanderbilt and you have one or two guys that really aren't focused and have their intensity level on the defensive end, it just takes one or two guys to break down your defense.
"The players know that is the challenge in front of them" Heath continued. "We have to have everybody out there committing themselves on the defensive end and not just working their butts off on the offensive end."
The loss was certainly a blow to Arkansas' hopes for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and helped Vandy, who has won five of it's last seven contests.
"This was a setback," Heath said of his team's second straight loss after a three-game win streak. "We knew going into this game that both teams were in kind of a must-win situation and it was a pivotal game if you were going to get to the NCAA, especially from an at-large situation. It really puts our backs against the wall where winning out gives us a ray of hope and maybe winning a couple of games in the (SEC) Tournament gives you a ray of hope. But the SEC Tournament looms a lot larger for us now.
"The main thing I really want to stay on our team about is getting better, improving, getting our defense back," Heath continued. "If we can defend a lot better, we will score a lot better and we'll give ourselves a chance to win ballgames. But if we don't play defense, especially on the road, you really set yourself up for failure."
Jason Holwerda added 10 points for Vandy (16-10, 6-6), who led just 55-51 when Arkansas' Rashard Sullivan was called for a questionable intentional foul on Moore with 7:52 remaining.
It turned into a five point trip as Moore hit his two free throws and then Foster drained a 3-pointer with 7:37 left to give Vanderbilt a 60-51 with and Arkansas never got any closer than seven that from that point on.
"I thought that was a pivotal play in the game where it was a four-point game and the intentional foul was called and I thought it was a pivotal turning point in the game," Heath said. "That kind of set the game in their favor right there."
Sullivan was called for intentional foul because the referee viewed him taking Moore to the floor instead of just going for the block.
"We are always coach our kids when that play happens - and maybe it's a play you don't agree or it didn't go your way," Heath said, "you have got to play through it...You want to play through that and you want to go to that next play, but that was a big one. We couldn't really cut into that lead from that point on and that was a frustrating thing in that situation right there."
Sullivan did have a good game with 8 points, 6 rebounds and 4 blocks.
"I thought he made the right play," Heath said. "He challenged the shot and wasn't going to give up the freebie. He was also very strong on the glass and had some big-time blocks during the course of the game. I thought he go to the free throw line, got fouled quite a bit and went up there and knocked them down. I have been searching a little bit for somebody to give us something at that four spot and he really responded today."
Vandy jumped out to an early 12-7 lead, but just as they did at Alabama on Wednesday night, Arkansas righted the ship and stormed back.
The Razorbacks took a 22-20 lead on consecutive 3-pointers by Eric Ferguson and Modica at the 8:50 mark.
Arkansas' lead grew to 27-24 with 5:02 left in the first half when Ferguson drilled another trey, but Vandy answered with seven straight points to regain the lead.
Foster scored the first five points in the spree and then Holwerda got inside for a layup and a 31-27 advantage with 3:24 remaining before intermission.
Vandy pushed that lead to five before Darian Townes scored inside with 43 seconds left and sent the Razorbacks to the halftime locker room with a 34-31 deficit.
"I thought we played a real good first half," Heath said. "We were right there - a three-point game at halftime and it seemed we were right where we wanted to be. But we went into the second half and they just shot the ball really, really well from the 3-point line and it was really a big difference in this game."
Vanderbilt quickly grabbed a nine-point lead in the second half before Arkansas got it to within 55-51 on Brewer's lay-up with 7:55 left in the game.
That brought on a TV timeout and then Sullivan's foul call seemed to be the end for Arkansas.
"We just didn't respond in the manner we needed to," Heath said.
Mike Jones, Arkansas' lone senior who had missed the past two weeks with an injury, played late in the game and hit a 3-pointer.
"Hopefully he can even be 15 or 20 percent more improved by the time again next Saturday," Heath said. "We could really use him out there on the court."
Arkansas is off during the middle of the week before taking on Tennessee next Saturday at Bud Walton Arena in a 3:05 p.m. game.
"Obviously you would have loved to go into the break with a win a little bit more momentum and feeling good about yourselves," Heath said. "But I can tell we are getting a little tired and can use the practice and get better."
Vanderbilt 79, Arkansas 65
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