Chemistry Issues Dog Arkansas Into SEC Tourney

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas' season came unglued Saturday in its 77-64 loss at Auburn, and coach Stan Heath took responsibility with an apology to the Razorback nation while suggesting one of his team captains has been part of the problem in this disappointing ending.

Heath pointed the finger at himself first after his team's awful performance and its fourth straight road loss by an average of 12 points each.

"I realize we disappointed our fans, we disappointed the people of Arkansas, we disappointed the great players that have played in Arkansas uniforms," Heath said during his postgame radio show. "We are really sorry about that.

"I didn't prepare our team as well as we should have,"

After saying last Thursday, "it's not appropriate to name names in the paper," Heath later identified junior captain Jonathon  Modica as part of the "10 percent" he said haven't bought into the team concept at all times this season.

The Razorbacks (18-11, 6-10 SEC) dropped to 2-22 on the SEC road under Heath and are stumbling down the stretch offensively and cohesively with the SEC Tournament beginning this Thursday for them against Tennessee at 6:30 p.m. in Atlanta.

After starting the season 12-1 with promise against a weak nonconference schedule and a competitive loss to No. 1 Illinois, Arkansas lost 10 of its next 16 and could only manage two more SEC wins than Heath's first two seasons.

For the first time under Heath, Arkansas did not beat a ranked team in five tries after two wins against ranked foes in each of his first two seasons with less talented teams.

In SEC games, Arkansas averaged 1.6 more points than last year, shot 1.8 percent better from the field and held opponents to 0.5 percent less on defense.

Last Thursday, senior Mike Jones named chemistry issues on the team as a major problem after their six-minute scoring drought to close out a 57-55 loss to Mississippi State on Tuesday.

When asked about Jones' comments last week, Heath said "90 percent of the team" had bought into the team concept.

"There's 10 percent that fight a little bit because they have some tendencies that aren't in line of teamwork," Heath said Thursday. "I think when players take ownership, police the team, call guys out in a good way in the team setting is healthy.

"It's not appropriate to name names in the paper, but it's something all teams go through."

Arkansas' negative chemistry as a team was amplified on Saturday as the Hogs gave in to the tougher Tigers on the boards, had a 10:42 scoreless drought while allowing 21-0, coughed up 24 turnovers and shot 4 of 19 from the 3-point line in the second half.

The Razorbacks appeared to quit between the final four minutes of the first half and the first seven, but Heath named Arkansas' 0-6 hole to start the game with Modica and Jones on the floor as part of the problem.

While addressing his team's turnover difficulties trying to make entry passes Saturday, Heath mentioned Modica -- who shoots 52.3 percent overall and 44.1 percent from the 3-point line – had earned a reprieve after playing 13 and 20 minutes in his previous two games to get back in the starting lineup.

"We worked with Jonathon and really felt like his effort was better in practice and he was really buying more into team things," Heath said. "So we wanted to go back to him and give him another chance."

Modica, who had 7 assists feeding the post in a 66-65 win against Ole Miss Feb. 5, had a team-high 5 turnovers in 25 minutes Saturday mainly trying to get the ball inside.

He did get the assist on Arkansas' first basket of the game when Townes finally touched the ball after a Brewer turnover and a Famutimi miss off the side of the backboard.

"That's not to point the finger at these guys at all," Heath said. "They earned it, they deserved it I thought it would help out the team. But it probably disrupted the chemistry out there."

Heath said Jones and Modica hadn't "played a lot with the other guys," although Modica started alongside Darian Townes, Ronnie Brewer and Olu Famutimi during Arkansas' three-game winning streak in early February and averaged 15.3 points in five straight games as a starter.

In four wins against ranked teams in Heath's three seasons, Modica has scored 21, 17, 26 and 8. On Feb. 12, Modica had 25 points in Arkansas' lone quality win against Western Division winner LSU.

Citing a need for better defense after his entire team was beat up and down the court at Vanderbilt on Feb. 19, Heath benched Modica all but 13 minutes of Arkansas' 70-68 win against Tennessee.

Heath and Modica both said he was better starting games, but Heath and Brewer have also commented it shouldn't matter if he starts or comes off the bench.

Whatever Modica's transgressions in Heath's view, he has certainly not said anything publicly this season that can even come close to a complaint other than to say it has been tough on him.

The Razorbacks' latest scoring drought of the season was its longest one and Arkansas hasn't been able to score consistently with or without Modica since South Carolina gave the rest of the conference a simple scouting report with a 2-3 zone that held them to 25 points in 29 minutes during a 64-52 loss Feb. 2.

In the nine games since, Arkansas has used five different starting lineups and has looked incapable and inept trying to beat zone defense.

Jones said the team can't afford to keep feeling sorry for itself or it could get clobbered again this Thursday.

Heath has lost his two SEC Tournament games by 10 and 30 points in his first two seasons.

"You have to stay strong through adversity because if we get our head down, it's just going to get worse," Jones said.

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