Heart To Heart

FAYETTEVILLE — The plane carrying the Arkansas basketball team landed at Drake Field late Wednesday night.

Mere hours removed from his team's devastating 67-59 loss at Auburn, Stan Heath wasn't in the mood to let his players go home. So they all stayed — coaches and players alike.

They shared a heart-felt conversation about the remainder of a season Arkansas' coach refuses to classify as lost, despite the Hogs' 16-11 record.

And Heath referred back to the position Arkansas coach Houston Nutt found himself in late last season, near the end of a rough season.

"Finishing strong is a very important thing for our basketball team, as well as everybody just sticking together and holding onto the rope," Heath said. "So I'll steal a page out of the football team's playbook. We re-emphasized those things to our basketball team."

Arkansas' players didn't mind hanging around. In fact, they appreciated the gesture.

They all agreed. They aren't ready to pack it in this season.

"We're still a confident bunch," Razorbacks point guard Gary Ervin said. "We have three more games and the next one is at home, so we're confident and we have to come out and improve on some things."

The Hogs are confident. But, especially after getting a look at the Southeastern Conference standings, they're not stupid.

They see the "5-8" next to "Arkansas." They realize they're in a tie for last place in the Western Division.

But they don't care. At least, they gave the impression Thursday that they've learned from their struggles, that they'll respond differently to adversity from now on.

"At this point, you have to be optimistic," Arkansas center Steven Hill said. "We have to win three straight (against Tennessee, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt) and then we have to do some damage in the SEC Tournament.

"So that's the road we have ahead of us, but right now we're trying to focus on Tennessee. It goes one game at a time."

Small forward Sonny Weems couldn't resist looking beyond Saturday's 12:05 p.m. contest in Bud Walton Arena.

All season, he's stressed that Arkansas could present problems for any team in the country. Heath echoed those thoughts late Wednesday, but he relayed frustrations to his players about the Razorbacks' inability to produce consistently.

What good is all the talent, he asked, if it doesn't result in victories.

Still, Weems seemed hopeful, boosted by the Hogs' soul-searching meeting.

"We still can do some damage in the NCAA Tournament," Weems said. "We can still be a dangerous team. I keep telling people, once we get in the NCAA Tournament, we can be dangerous."



SATURDAY'S TICKET

TENNESSEE AT ARKANSAS

WHEN: 12:05 p.m. TV: KHOG (Cable channel 7)

WHERE: Bud Walton Arena, Fayetteville

RECORDS: Tennessee, 19-9, 7-6 Southeastern Conference; Arkansas, 16-11, 5-8

RADIO: KXIO-FM 106.9; KEZA-FM 107.9; KKEG-FM 92.1; KFPW-AM 1230; KQBK-FM 104.7; KHGG-AM 1580; KHGG-FM 103.1; KDYN-AM 1540; KDYN-FM 96.7; KTTG-FM 96.3

COACHES: Tennessee, Bruce Pearl (41-17, 2nd season; 358-101, 16 seasons); Arkansas, Stan Heath (77-68, 5th season; 107-74 overall, 6 seasons)

SERIES: Tied 11-11 (Arkansas leads 5-2 in Fayetteville)

LAST MEETING: Arkansas won 73-69 on Feb. 25, 2006, in Knoxville, Tenn.



WORTH QUOTING

GARY ERVIN

On accepting blame for Arkansas' loss Wednesday night at Auburn:

"I point at myself. I didn't step up and be a leader. I didn't box out. I missed three free throws, and I'm a good free-throw shooter. I missed wide-open 3-pointers. I didn't do a good job of being a leader."



STAN HEATH

On his team's attitude for the remainder of the season:

"We're not going to quit. We're going to fight. We're going to go through the season and play every game. And, as long as there's a window of opportunity, we've got to fight for it."



DARIAN TOWNES

On who struggled the most at keeping Auburn from rebounding:

"It was everybody," Townes said. "We're not going to put the blame on one guy. It's on everybody."


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