Confidence Is A Process For Arkansas

AUBURN, Ala. -- One day after Arkansas' crushing 78-75 overtime loss at Alabama, Tide coach Mark Gottfried talked about how such a game can affect each team.

"Winning gives you confidence -- no question," Gottfried said Thursday. "It's like a golfer who hits a couple of great shots -- the next thing, you think you're Tiger Woods.

"When you lose, you lose confidence. You start scratching your head and evaluating every part of your game."

Arkansas (12-5 and 1-3 in the Southeastern Conference) may have reached the head-scratching phase.

The Razorbacks now must face an also struggling Auburn team on Saturday, on "Centennial Celebration" weekend at Auburn.

"We need a win," Hogs coach Stan Heath said. "This is an important game, especially on the road. We need to give ourselves a chance to get back in the hunt."

Arkansas has played four straight barn-burners, losing three of them in part because it hasn't quite been able to make enough plays down the stretch.

Auburn coach Jeff Lebo, whose team lost 69-57 at No. 2 Florida last Saturday and has had "a gazillion practices" since then, can relate to Arkansas' situation.

The Tigers are just 8-6 and 0-3 in the SEC, but they played Florida mostly even for 30 minutes before melting away.

"We've got to find somebody to make a play at crunch time," Lebo said. "We don't have that guy. Maybe it's a young guy."

Lebo credited Arkansas with having some veteran guards like Ronnie Brewer, Jonathon Modica and Eric Ferguson with that capability.

"Brewer has been through the wars," Lebo said.

Lebo didn't see the Arkansas-Alabama game, but said, "From what I read, Arkansas had every opportunity to win."

The Razorbacks, in fact, led 51-38 in the second half and were still up 63-54 inside the five-minute mark of regulation.

"We're playing pretty good basketball," Heath said. "We've got to close games better and be a little bit smarter. Saturday's game is very important for our basketball team."

Lebo, a successful guard for North Carolina from 1985-89, was asked how a coach or team establishes a go-to player.

"You have to be a confident player, and you have to have success to be confident," he said. "You can't give a kid confidence; that's false confidence. You get it in games and practice situations, having success. Then you want to make a play at crucial times because you've done it before."

Interestingly, Heath seemed to anticipate Alabama guard Ronald Steele's big (25-point) game against Arkansas when Heath said last Monday, "I see Steele becoming even more of a leader. He scored eight straight points against Kentucky and showed a big heart."

In the same way, Gottfried seemed to anticipate good games by Tide forwards Jermareo Davidson (19 points) and Richard Hendrix (11 points, 11 rebounds) when he said on Monday, "Jermareo and Richard have realized they had to be more productive all over the floor after Chuck Davis got hurt."

Particularly hurtful to Arkansas was a sequence in which Alabama forward Jean Felix rebounded his own missed free throw and completed a three-point play in reverse to pull the Tide within 65-64 late in regulation.

Brewer said, "We did a lot of things right, but we also did a lot of things wrong."

Heath, after Wednesday's game, pointed out that Alabama had shot 33 free throws to Arkansas' 9. But he stopped himself from elaborating too much on that theme, halting one of his own answers in mid-sentence by saying, "Screw it, I can't go there. Sorry, guys."

Gottfried, asked Thursday if he had any reaction to Heath's postgame remarks, said, "No, not at all."

Gottfried and Alabama have their own hands full, getting ready to play at SEC-West-leading LSU (3-0) on Saturday.

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