Arkansas Trying To Make Clean Sweep

ATLANTA -- The Razorbacks' spring cleaning included sweeping their chemistry problems out from under the rug and into the trash during a team meeting on Sunday following their lackluster, season-closing 77-64 loss at last-place Auburn.

The next step is making a clean sweep of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

The daunting task for Arkansas (18-11) begins at 6:30 p.m. today against Tennessee (13-16) in the Georgia Dome for a first-round pairing of the Western Division No. 4 seed and the East No. 5 which both finished 6-10 in the SEC.

Razorbacks third-year coach Stan Heath is in search of his first win in the SEC Tournament and, most importantly, a performance by his team that will dispel the perception his team quit against the Tigers.

After apologizing to the state of Arkansas, Razorback fans and former lettermen on Saturday, Heath called suggestions his team gave up during a 21-0 run over a 10:42 span a "lie," a "joke" and "an insult to the players" at his Tuesday press conference.

With a rallying cry around newfound team unity, Heath has staked out an "us against the world" premise for the Razorbacks in the cavernous tournament venue.

Heath has made senior Mike Jones and All-SEC sophomore Ronnie Brewer the only Razorbacks available to the media in the lead-up to the game in an effort to close ranks.

"It's our only chance (to make the NCAA Tournament)," Heath said. "That's the way we're looking at it. We're a young team and sometimes they even forget how young we are.

"We know we have to come even closer together. We are a team that is good enough to beat anybody, but we could also lose to anybody if we don't play well.

"That's the fine line we're at right now."

The Vols have walked the same fine line with six losses by three points or less this season, including their 70-68 loss to the Razorbacks on Feb. 26 in Fayetteville.

Arkansas has lost its share of close games with defeats to Kentucky, Alabama, LSU and Mississippi State by nine points total.

The 57-55 loss to Mississippi State on March 1 emotionally "zapped" his team leading into the Auburn game, Heath said.

Arkansas had nothing to play for but pride and fell short in that department after losing a four-point lead before halftime and never recovering.

"We've had reflections where we look good and reflections where we don't," Heath said. "It's a great group of guys that want to win and get a little discouraged when things don't go our way.

"Our key is to pull ourselves back up when setbacks arise."

Wednesday, freshly healed Vols leading scorer Scooter McFadgon, who didn't play in the first meeting because of a bruised kneecap, said Tennessee "had them beat" in Fayetteville.

"I didn't get to play, and we had them beat, so I say with me out there, we can put some more points on the board and beat them," said McFadgon, who had 12 points on 4 of 9 shooting in Tennessee's 78-68 season-closing win against Georgia.

McFadgon was mired in a shooting slump before his injury, but coach Buzz Peterson, who received a vote of confidence from Lady Vols coach Pat Summitt, thinks he'll be fine.

"Today I watched him very closely and he shot the ball well," Peterson said. "He really surprised me Saturday night (against Georgia) how he shot the ball. He's gotten better in the last few days. We need that backcourt punch. To have the extra weapon really helps you out. It helps your inside game as well."

In his absence, Vols freshman Chris Lofton lit up the Razorbacks for a career-high 30 points mostly against chest-to-chest defense.

Under Arkansas junior Eric Ferguson's tenacious coverage in the final six minutes, Lofton didn't score and had to pass off for a desperate attempt by junior point guard C.J. Watson as time expired.

Ferguson will start today along with Brewer, Olu Famutimi, Charles Thomas and Darian Townes, who was a unanimous selection to the All-SEC Freshman team.

With McFadgon back, Tennessee has its full and mostly healthy compliment of players for the first time since its Jan. 19 win in overtime at Florida pushed them to 3-2 in the SEC.

Senior 6-foot-10 forward Brandon Crump, who averages 11.4 points and 5.7 rebounds, missed four games after turning his ankle in the Louisville game Jan. 22 and turned his other ankle two games into his return against Ole Miss on Feb. 19.

McFadgon bruised his knee in practice before the Ole Miss game and missed the next three.

"Decisions need to be made," Heath said. "All three of those perimeter players are capable of knocking down shots. Crump can score around the basket.

"Do you trap, do you double the post? Those are the adjustments during the game we have to figure out. (Having McFadgon back) makes them a better team. If they have that team all year, I think you'd see a better record."

Tennessee played 2-3 zone nearly exclusively against Arkansas and was effective on its defense against the Hogs' first shot attempts but lost out on the glass by getting outrebounded 38-32 and allowing 15 offensive rebounds.

The Vols played so much zone, former North Carolina and all-time winningest Division I coach Dean Smith noticed.

"That's the most zone I've ever played," Peterson said. "Coach Smith called me and said, 'That's a lot of zone there. What was your thinking on that?'

"It's like when you're playing golf and you're hitting your 3-wood good and you just stay with it. We stayed with it, but you have to watch that backside rebounding against Arkansas and keep those guys off the board."

The key for Arkansas is to attack the seams of the zone and get production from Thomas in the high post. The freshman power forward snapped a four-game scoreless streak with 9 points against the Vols.

Creating an uptempo contest favors Arkansas if it can play fast enough to avoid halfcourt settings.

"I think if we play aggressive and knock down shots, they'll switch to man and we play a lot better against man," Brewer said.

Whatever Arkansas does, it must do it better than it has in losing four of its last five following its first three-game SEC winning streak in four years.

"The postseason is very special," Jones said. "If you want it, you can get it. If you don't, you can go home. I think this team really wants it.

"We want it so bad."

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