Arkansas vs. Tennessee

Arkansas (17-9, 5-8) tries to snap a two-game losing streak when it hosts Tennessee (12-14), 5-8) at 3:05 p.m. today at Bud Walton Arena.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas lacks for a lot at this point of the season.

The Razorbacks lack conference wins, consistency and hope of making the NCAA Tournament after dropping road games to Alabama and Vanderbilt last week.

The one thing they don't lack for is resiliency.

Like a boxer either too punch drunk and battered or too young to know any better, Arkansas (17-9, 5-8 Southeastern Conference) keeps getting up to beat the standing eight count in a fight with no three-knockdown rule.

Arkansas answers the bell again today against Tennessee (12-14, 5-8), a team wobbling one loss away from being knocked out of any postseason consideration.

Reeling after their loss to Vanderbilt, the Razorbacks had an open week to regain their senses and prepare for the Vols.

The Hogs have shown coach Stan Heath they aren't ready to start playing just for fun like Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson said the Vols did Wednesday in their 80-72 win against South Carolina.

"There's a fire inside of those guys," Heath said. "They have pride. They do.

"They want to win."

Heath and the Hogs have yet to resign themselves to playing in the NIT instead of the NCAA, but avoiding the former means winning out against Tennessee, Mississippi State and at Auburn and at a minimum making the finals of the SEC Tournament on March 13.

"We're certainly not out (of the NCAA)," said junior Jonathon  Modica. "We have a lot to play for. We're looking forward to ending this season with a bang. I will say the team has a lot of character and I think you'll see that on the floor Saturday."

Arkansas has the advantage of rediscovering its team chemistry at home -- where it's 12-2 this season -- with two games in four days, including a national broadcast on ESPN this Tuesday against the Bulldogs.

"It could have been a major problem with two more road games in a row," said sophomore Ronnie Brewer. "We've played well at home and I like our chances."

The Razorbacks have to shore up their ballhandling, their defense -- especially in transition -- and their zone offense playing against a loose but talented team with nothing to lose.

At this stage of the season with schemes on offense and defense well-rehearsed in practice, Arkansas' task becomes more than 90 percent mental to execute in the games.

"It's a matter of telling yourself you're going to do it," Modica said. "A lot of times when you do it, good things happen.

"We're looking for our best effort on every single play out here."

Heath may shuffle his starting lineup today with possible switches at the power forward with junior Rashard Sullivan for freshman Charles Thomas.

With cutting down on giveaways and improving defense at a premium, Modica, who is offensive-minded but defensively challenged and turnover-prone (11 in last three games), may come off the bench again after starting the last five games and averaging 15.6 points.

Heath said Thursday Modica's defense and rebounding (4 in last two games after 23 in previous four) must pick up whether he starts or comes off the bench.

Heath also said he doesn't want Brewer handling point guard duties as much as he's had to recently with junior Dontell Jefferson's struggles (12 minutes in last two games) and Eric Ferguson's 3-turnover average in his last four.

"It's hard to be consistent when the quarterback is not playing at a high level," Heath said. "It's important we get good play from that position. Offensively, defensively, intangibles like leadership to pull the troops together on the court when things aren't going well.

"They have to set the tone with the decisions they make."

Vols leading post player Brandon Crump (11.7 points, 5.3 rebounds per game) is hobbled by two sore ankles but still scored 22 and grabbed 10 boards against South Carolina.

Leading scorer Scooter McFadgon (14.1 ppg) has missed his last two games with a bruised kneecap, but freshman Chris Lofton continued to pad his SEC-leading 3-point percentage with a 7 of 13 day from outside on Wednesday and a career-high 25 points.

"The key for us is our conversion defense is very important, protecting the ball and being able to execute and eliminate our turnovers against their pressure," said Peterson, echoing the Arkansas game plan almost to the word.

Whoever executes their plan best will deliver a knockout blow neither can recover from.

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