NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The Hogs and the Dogs - again.
The University of Arkansas (21-8, 10-6) will play Georgia (15-14, 5-11) for the second time in five days on Thursday night around 8:45 with this battle being at the Gaylord Entertainment Center in the opening round of the SEC Tournament.
The Razorbacks, who will be trying to win their first league tournament game in five years, are also hoping to push their current winning streak to six with another win over the Bulldogs, who Arkansas downed 74-57 in Athens on Sunday.
"The team that we have in place that can compete and win games here," Razorback head coach Stan Heath said. "There is a sense of confidence that I know we can get the job done. We need to play. We need to play for 40 minutes, we need to make sure that we're not just kind of showing up and thinking that somebody is just going to lay down for us because that's not going to happen. Georgia is going to fight for their lives and everybody else will, too. I do feel like if we play our best basketball and the opponent plays their best basketball I believe we'll win."
Thursday's other games find South Carolina taking on Mississippi State at noon, Ole Miss battling Kentucky at 2:15 p.m. and Auburn taking on Vanderbilt at 6:30 p.m.
"We're excited about getting started with postseason," Georgia head coach Dennis Felton said. "Tournament time is a lot of fun, especially in a league like the SEC that attracts so much attention and so much fan interest. It will be interesting playing in a small venue for us here in Nashville, a beautiful venue, but a small venue compared to the Georgia Dome. I think it's going to make for that much more of an exciting atmosphere."
Arkansas senior guard Jonathon Modica thinks the Razorbacks, who would face Florida Friday night at 8:45 if they win, should be one of the favored teams to take home the tournament title.
"I've got to admit though if we're not going to be the favored team then I am kind of disappointed," Modica said, "because I definitely feel like we're ready to give somebody a big upset, we're ready to come in here and tear this place up."
Ronnie Brewer, who was named to the first-team All-SEC squad Wednesday while Modica was tabbed second team and Eric Ferguson the sixth man of the year, said the Razorbacks are not going to ease up just because they seemingly have a NCAA Tournament bid locked up.
"Going into this tournament we have the mentality that we're trying to win the whole entire thing," Brewer said. " So you can say there's some pressure on us because we need to play well. We're not relaxing at all. So we're focused on our first opponent and we are just trying to take care of business and get that first win."
That first opponent is focused on Arkansas as well and putting together a better game than they did on Sunday according to Felton.
"We normally play with more aggression and competitiveness than we did for stretches on Sunday and we can normally put the ball in the basket a little better than we did," Felton said. "I almost felt like we got disspirited a little bit when we did have trouble making some shots - some easier shots - that we normally could have made. That might have impacted the game...But we are competitive. We fight well and we can do a lot of things better than we did the first game against Arkansas."
Felton thinks part of Sunday's bad play also had to do with his team being very young.
"We are a young team, an extremely young team and we are learning a lot of things for the first time,"Felton said. " One thing I think we are learning is how long the college basketball season is. We count on a lot of guys who are playing their first college basketball season. I think both mental and physical fatigue - more mental than physical - could be factoring into our season."
He knows Arkansas is a formidable foe in any setting.
"They are very very strong challenge for us," Felton said. "We have already found that out and we're looking forward to it. I think they are extremely talented, very, very athletic, terrific attacking the rim and the open court, and well coached and playing with a lot of momentum on their side right now.
"They have let up to this point in the season with a lot of tremendous wins and we're very excited about the game and about the tournament and about postseason," Felton continued, "but I am sure they are extremely excited too about what they feel like they are poised to do. So it should be a terrific game."
Arkansas is hoping to get more from its bigs this game - hoping that Darian Townes, Steven Hill and Vincent Hunter can step up and help out Charles Thomas, who had 15 points and 15 rebounds against Georgia on Saturday.
"My philosophy has always been that, be it an inside out attack, offensively and the bigs during the Florida, Alabama, Tennessee were really big in all those games - each one of them," Heath said. "The last game Charles Thomas was huge, 15 and 15 in the Georgia game but we probably didn't get the production that we thought we could get out of Steven Hill and Darian Townes especially we need those guys.
"They have been a big part of us being a better rebounding team as Ronnie Brewer mentioned," Heath added. "They have been a force definitely in terms of just keeping the other team's big guys in check, you know, at least human and they have done a great job with that. And Steven Hill obviously anchors our middle and Townes can be an offensive low for us when he really gets it going. So I think it is important throughout this tournament that we get consistent play from our big guys. If we can get two out of the four going I think we're in great shape. If we ever get to the point where all four going who knows where we could be."
Arkansas' big guys will once again encounter Georgia's Dave Bliss, a physical player who riled them up with his elbow-laden play on Sunday.
"We just try to be aggressive coming out early and limit their touches, not let them get easy post position and force them to make a move to go to the rim rather than just get layup things like that,' Bliss said. " No easy transition baskets. We'll look to do the same thing again.
"I mean, that's my style, just playing physical, so I am not going to change that, or try and get in anyone's head," Bliss added. "Just playing the game."
Bliss also expects a better effort from his team.
"I thought we played poorly and that was reflected in the score," Bliss said. " but I don't think there's a lack of effort, that's not characteristic of our team, and certainly we're going to put forth a good effort here on Thursday, tomorrow night, and give them what we got."
Felton said he is a big fan of what Heath done at Arkansas.
"I'd imagine that their confidence level is very high based on their experiences" Felton said. "This season has been a tremendous season for them, but especially here recently. I mean, they have had great wins over very, very good competition in our league and have -- they have done what they needed to do to earn an invitation to the NCAA tournament. They are a program that has been growing and I'd say they have been turning corners all along since Coach Heath has been there but they have really turned some major corners for themselves in their program here in recent weeks.
So I'd assume that they have a lot to feel good about, a lot to be excited about," Felton said. "Then when you just look at the makeup of their team, they have got terrific parts. They have got terrific size. They are athletic as they ever need to be. They can shoot. They can drive. They can run in transition. They have the athleticism to defend well and rebound well."
Modica says Arkansas has no intention of letting go of its momentum.
"We've won five games in a row so we got used to winning, we definitely don't want to stop any time soon," Modica said. "I think we have accomplished some things that we set out at the beginning of the season that we thought we could do as a team. I definitely feel that we still got a lot to prove, we still got a lot of respect to earn. I think our teammates and the coaching staff feel the same way that I do. I would say that the pressure is still on, but we definitely feel we are playing more confident, we're playing more -- playing with more energy and intensity than we had in the past. Every game is still a plus for us, we want to win."
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