Heath Says No To NIT

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas coach Stan Heath's head told him the Razorbacks needed to keep playing basketball in the National Invitation Tournament.

Heath's heart told him otherwise.

Heath pulled the plug on Arkansas' postseason Friday and promised a "top to bottom" evaluation of every aspect of his program following a sleepless night of reflection after the Razorbacks' 65-46 loss to Tennessee in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament in Atlanta.

"As I look at how we closed the season, I could see in my teams' eyes, we are emotionally and physically tired," Heath said. "That does not translate well into a team that should be going into the postseason. If the NIT offers us an invitation to their tournament, we will decline.

"Not because we don't have respect for that tournament, but because we need to get our ship right."

The Razorbacks will finish their season at 18-12 following 11 losses in their last 16 games and an RPI that should top 100 after their latest loss.

Heath said Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles has notified the NIT that the Razorbacks would not accept a bid.

It was their second straight lackluster effort against a losing team after dropping their regular season finale 77-64 at Western Division doormat Auburn on March 5 and Heath changed his mind after saying Thursday night his team would "definitely" accept a bid to the NIT.

Heath mentally reviewed Arkansas' last two games and could only come up with one conclusion after the Razorbacks committed 37 turnovers, were outrebounded by 18 and outscored by 32 against Auburn and Tennessee, two teams Arkansas had beaten.

Both games were plagued by extended scoring droughts of 11, 10 and seven minutes and a failure to execute against a 2-3 zone that stretches back to the 64-52 loss at South Carolina on Feb. 2.

The South Carolina game had been Arkansas' previous scoring low until Thursday.

"As I looked at these last two games, I got pretty angry," Heath said. "I got pretty upset. I was disappointed because we didn't play with the intensity we should have played with. We didn't play with the cohesiveness we should have played with.

"And that really bothered me. It really bothered me. That's not the way a team should play heading into postseason."

Heath said he waited until he got home Friday morning and "thought through a lot of things" before going to Broyles and telling him of his decision.

In a statement released by the university, Broyles said he supported Heath's decision.

"This morning, coach Heath asked to meet with me about the prospects of postseason play for this season," Broyles said. "He expressed in that meeting that he felt that it was appropriate to decline any potential postseason invitations that we might receive. I am confident that coach Heath made his decision based on what is best for our program.

"I support his decision and have offered any assistance he may need as he prepares to lead our basketball team next season."

The last time Arkansas went to the NIT was in 1997 and the ticket office sold approximately 3,000 advance tickets compared to 3,400 so far this season.

The credit card numbers that were taken for ticket purchases won't be run, meaning Arkansas won't have to refund any money either before or after any game.

Now the Razorbacks' postseason absence will extend to four years since the 2001 team lost in the NCAA Tournament first round.

The prospect of Arkansas meeting Arkansas-Little Rock in the first or second round was not a factor in the decision, Heath said.

Broyles has a strict policy about Arkansas not playing the other in-state schools.

"It has nothing to do with any opponent," Heath said. "It has nothing to do with that. It has everything to do with how my team played. Anybody who watched my team the last two games will know what I'm talking about."

Heath said no players have talked to him about leaving the program, but he will not rule out any roster changes taking place before next season.

Heath said he received "mixed emotions" about skipping the NIT in private conversations with players, but there was "no reaction" when he informed the team as a whole.

"I went to my team and told them the decision I made, why I made it and I let them understand that every time we step on the court is an opportunity," Heath said. "And sometimes when you don't play well, you don't perform well, you lose other opportunities.

"That's basically what happened to us."

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