State of the Hogs

Stan Heath seemed to understand that Arkansas basketball fans are "pessimistic" with a 1-3 team right now. He probably knows they are more than a little tired of the way SEC road losses are piling up.

The Razorback coach seemed mad as he discussed Wednesday night's overtime loss at Alabama at his Thursday media briefing. And, he suspects that others are mad, too.

"It's real easy for those on the outside to be pessimistic right now," Heath said. "It's OK. We understand. We put ourselves in that position."

Yes, the Hogs have done that. Winning only twice against SEC foes on the road in three plus seasons will do that.

Heath still thinks the Hogs can get to their preseason goal, the NCAA tournament. He still sees the "big picture" and believes there are double digit victories for the Hogs in SEC play this season.

But something has to turn around fast for that to happen. They can't let one more opportunity slip away like the way the Hogs lost at Alabama when they led by 13 midway through the second half and by 3 points in the closing seconds.

Heath was clear on what lies in the Hogs' immediate path, a trip to Auburn on Saturday.

"That's a must win," he said. "We have to go to Auburn and get a win, a must win. We have to play better down the stretch, put ourselves in position to get a win and then win. That's the bottom line.

"Our team can play with anybody. The question is can we beat anybody?"

Well put. The Hogs had chances to win their first two road games this season, but couldn't hold leads at Mississippi State and Alabama. They missed critical free throws and couldn't rebound misses when the opposition missed critical free throws.

They failed to secure the defensive rebound twice in the late stages of regulation when Alabama foul shooters missed. Both times the Tide secured the rebound, converting hoops afterwards for an unconventional three-point play. One of them happened when the Hogs failed to block out the shooter.

"We have two schemes on defensive rebounds for foul shots," Heath said. "One, you have someone get the shooter, block him out. The other, you pinch down hard with both men on the inside rebounder and have the man outside the 3-point line coming down hard to prevent the shooter from getting the rebound. That was what we were in on one of those. It was a crazy bounce wild outside, but our 3-point line man didn't come down hard enough."

Heath still wasn't buying that Dontell Jefferson fouled Ronald Steele on the 3-point shot that led to three made foul shots to tie the game with a little over 10 seconds left in regulation. He could not recall very many times when officials bailed out a wild, desperation dive into a defender to get a three-shot foul in the closing seconds.

"I remember it only once lately," Heath said. "That was last year when Kentucky got that call against Louisiville. You just don't see (officials) bail them out on that kind of a dive into a set defender."

Heath said the only way Jefferson could have played that situation better was to "dive out of the way of the shooter." He didn't sound convincing as he described that alternative. Jefferson wouldn't do it that way if he gets another chance.

"I'll stick with what I did last night," he said. "I think you have to stay there and make sure he doesn't get an uncontested shot in that situation. I won't jump out of his way. No, I'd do it just like that again. I don't see them call it like that often."

The Hogs still had a chance to get out of regulation with a victory when Ronnie Brewer found himself in the open floor on the offensive end with plenty of time left. Heath stopped play with a timeout from the bench with five seconds left.

"I'd much prefer him to go ahead," Heath said. "I like to let him go in that situation (and not call the timeout). But I want to see if he is aggressive and I didn't see that. I saw him searching and surveying. I thought it better to get a timeout and get a better attempt."

What about sitting Jonathon Modica for most of the second half?

"You look at every game differently," Heath said. "Number one, with their strategy last night to give us pressure, we needed ball handlers. And, then against their zone, I wanted to penetrate their zone with (Eric) Ferguson. I thought we had the advantage with the personnel on the floor. We had the lead and we needed defense to get us some stops with a 10 or an 11-point lead."

None of that matters now. Brewer understands that. What does matter is the mood of the team.

"You are always frustrated to lose no matter how it happens," Brewer said. "You can be up 30 or down 30 and if you lose, it's frustrating. But we can't give up. We have to show our true character.

"We are coming back to work. No one quit. No player quit this team and no coach has quit this team. Everyone is here and we are going to get back to work."


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