Arkansas visits Ole Miss

Arkansas (12-4, 1-1) hits the road again hoping for a key win away from home when it faces Ole Miss (11-5, 0-2) today in a 4 p.m. game in Oxford that will be televised by Fox Sports Net.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Last time the Arkansas Razorbacks left Oxford, Miss., Steven Hill truly believed they were destined for postseason competition comprising of the letters NIT, not NCAA.

The 7-foot center remembers the silent locker room. He easily recollects the collective depression. The 73-70 loss on Feb. 15, the fifth in Arkansas' first six Southeastern Conference road games, seemed to bruise every part of the Hogs' ego.

"I think it was just one of those games, and it was really embarrassing for us," Hill said.

Somehow, the Razorbacks turned their season after leaving Oxford.

They won their last five regular-season games, beat Georgia in the SEC Tournament and earned an NCAA Tournament berth.

But the Hogs head back to Oxford today with none of that on their minds. Leading up to today's 4 p.m. contest at Ole Miss (11-5, 0-2), the Razorbacks (12-4, 1-1) preferred to revisit that nightmarish February night -- and the four losses that preceded it.

"Your mindset and attitude have to be right when you go into those environments, and you have to respect your opponent," Arkansas coach Stan Heath said. "We need a road win. If we want to challenge in our league, it is critical that we get wins on the road. The focus is there and they understand."

Problem was, last year, the concentration wasn't there. The Razorbacks lost by two points at Mississppi State. They blew a double-digit second-half lead at Alabama. They did the same 11 days later at Kentucky. They fell by one point at LSU. And then, they stumbled out of Oxford a three-point loser.

All winnable games, every defeat contained substantial mental and physical lapses.

Arkansas swingman Sonny Weems wasn't around last season. But plenty of the Razorbacks' veterans took time this week to explain what happened last January and February.

"Last year's team looked over small teams like that, especially Ole Miss," Weems said. "I think they went in thinking they already had the game won. We're not coming in with that mindset."

This year's Hogs promised they'd learned from last year's deficiencies and swore they wouldn't repeat them.

Arkansas' past two true road games, at Texas and Florida, provided ample evidence. Those two contests resulted in close losses, and the Hogs held a brief second-half lead in each.

Junior point guard Gary Ervin said he'd tap into the knowledge he gained from watching those five performances. Ervin, who sat out last season as a transfer from Mississippi State, watched every second of every game, scrutinizing every moment like a coach.

Now, he may possess the most control over whether Arkansas learns from its past mistakes. Turnovers often hurt Arkansas in the second half of the five early SEC road losses. Ervin has committed just two in his last three games while posting 26 assists.

"We're in a rhythm right now, in a comfort zone," Ervin said.

The only way Arkansas doesn't get cozy today is if the Hogs don't learn from their past and take the Rebels lightly, Hill said.

"The big thing about SEC is there's really not an off night," Hill said. "We realize now that there's not an off night and that we have to bring it every time out there."

Steven Hill

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